As I discussed in my first review of this year for the book the Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia, I have set myself a goal to read more translated and international literature. One of the first books I actually bought with this goal in mind was Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. I had purchased the book as a gift for a friend a year or so ago, and thought it would be a good idea to revisit the book this year, especially after setting this goal.
Keiko is 36 years old. She’s never had a boyfriend, and she’s been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years.
Keiko’s family wishes she’d get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won’t get married.
But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she’s not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store…
This book was… unusual. It was humorous and quirky yet at the same time dark. Keiko is an unusual protagonist and whilst I know a lot of people (particularly on Goodreads) really like this book, it wasn’t as great as I thought it was going to be. Why? One thing really – it lacked plot.
The story follows Keiko as she tries to mimic how to be acceptable in the eyes of society including her parents, family and friends. She’s expected to want to be more than a lowly sales assistant in convenience store and she’s expected to try to find a husband. What the main storyline focuses on is Keiko trying to be normal in a world which thinks she’s an oddity.
There’s a lot about this novel that is great – I empathise with Keiko’s struggles to deal with other people’s judgments and the expectations she should have done (insert adult milestone) by (insert randomly decided years of age). I think this is something most people deal with but for Keiko, it comes from the background that she is seen as socially atypical. She seems cold and distant – all of her outward personality is constructed from traits she’s observed in the people around her. She takes parts of other people and mimics it to fit in.
I liked Keiko, I like the different approach to societal norms and the judgments we all face. I found myself expecting the pace of the plot to increase in stakes and drama but it doesn’t. Having now read it a month or so ago, I find myself struggling to remember much about the actual plot and storylines. I remember bits and pieces but it’s not memorable enough to stay in my mind which is a negative.
I went into this book wanting to like it and felt confused at the lack of storyline. There’s no weight to the decisions made and Keiko doesn’t seem to go through any form of character development that is worthwhile. She ends up back at the same perspective she started with. There’s no change and I found myself asking if that was Murata’s intention the whole time.
Am I supposed to view it as funny that she is happy being a cog in a machine but everyone else is trapped a different type of societal machine like marriage, parenthood? I don’t know.
Murata’s approach is interesting and it made me think about what makes a plot good. I came to the conclusion that an amazingly described character does not make up for a lack of story. The story itself just didn’t entice me in enough. I enjoyed a lot of the description and dialogue but I just didn’t understand how it all tied together. Maybe that’s just me?
2 out of 5 stars.
Thanks for reading x