Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

This book is beautiful, quirky and insightful – a story about the difficulties of trying to fit into a society that expects you to be something you’re not. Not just a compelling and enjoyable story, but an important one – a must-read!

The protagonist, Keiko Furukura, finds that being herself disappoints and upsets the people around her, who expect her to act and live a certain way. She learns she’s expected to follow a set of unspoken rules that everyone seems to understand but her.

After starting work at a local convenience store, Keiko finds that the store’s clear directions on appearance, speech and even facial expressions act like a script with which she can play the role of “convenience store worker” – an accepted and valued member of society. Unfortunately, as she gets older she’s expected to move on to different roles, ones without scripts.

I have to say that one thing I don’t get from this book – that many others seemed to get – is humour. Not that there is attempted humour that fails, just that I don’t feel like it’s trying to be funny in the first place. Quirky? Definitely! Dry? Sure. But funny? Not to me, anyway. I also don’t find it harrowing or disturbing as some do.

To me, this book is far more like poetry than comedy or horror. It’s written from the point of view of someone who is driven by logic, and yet Keiko’s thoughts are often lyrical, spiritual and deeply insightful. These characteristics aren’t at war with her logical nature, but rather are connected parts of a whole, rich personality.

Keiko is almost certainly autistic, although it’s never specifically mentioned. This in itself is part of the message I think this novel is trying to get across. The only reason the label “autistic” even exists is because society demands and expects neurotypical behaviour. No matter the label, anything not the norm is the other, and has to be categorised as such. But Keiko is just Keiko. She just thinks how she thinks.

While we as readers learn this and accept and love Keiko, the people in her life are not guided by a story – they’re guided by society, as we all are in the real world. “The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects.” (p. 80)

Finishing this book I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad because, though I’ve been privy to her innermost thoughts, I’m still not sure whether Keiko is really happy or not.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? I don’t have to completely understand every one of Keiko’s thoughts or actions, just as she shouldn’t be expected to do the same with others.

I hope to see more stories like this and more characters like Keiko in the future.

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