“Hello, my name is Convenience Store Woman”
Genre: General Adult Fiction, Literary Fiction
Similar to: A shorter, Japanese Eleanor Oliphant
Could be enjoyed by: Someone looking for a quick, quirky read
Publication date: 5th July 2018
I don’t know what it is about books set in Japan but there’s just something that draws me to them. I think it’s because the culture seems completely unique but at the same time there’s a lot of parallels with Britain (or at least stereotypes of Britishness) like the formality, the politeness and the implications of class (and yes, the tea drinking). I also associate a strong sense of day-glo weirdness with Japanese literature that I find completely fascinating – so I was immediately drawn to an odd little novella called Convenience Store Woman.
Keiko has never really fitted in with anyone else’s expectations of her. She is unsure of everything – how to act, how to talk and how to dress so she essentially copies others (right down to their speech patterns) in order to pass as “normal”. The world is a difficult and confusing place until she enters employment in a highly regimented convenience store, where she is told how to complete every stage of every task that is expected of her. Unfortunately, her job and single status is unacceptable to her group of friends, so she is forced to take drastic action in order to fit in.
I adored this super-cute novella. Keiko is such a likeable, quirky character and I could absolutely relate to the pressure that she felt to fit in with the expectations of society. I could also understand the struggles that she had with being an outsider and how she found solace in the regimented, ordered world of the convenience store. As an ex-employee of a corner shop I fondly remember working there, chatting to customers (usually the same people every week) even though I was usually hungover after a Friday night out (I was only 18). I enjoyed the repetitive nature of many of the tasks and the way that I was not expected to do anything too difficult, which made a great change from studying for my A Levels. I completely understood how someone like Keiko would also find this atmosphere soothing.
I loved the way that the book explored the idea that Keiko’s friends and family assumed that she was unhappy with her life just because it wasn’t typical of someone of her age. How often do we meet someone who is single and automatically try to romantically pair them up with our other single friends? How quickly would we dismiss a shop employee as potential marriage material? Or assume that someone with a degree working in a menial job was wasting their life? Maybe there’s a lesson in there that we should all be more accepting of each other’s choices.
I also loved the way that the book referenced different ideas about conformity. Keiko obviously doesn’t want to follow the traditional path of career/marriage/children but she does seek solace in the rules of her workplace. This made me think about whether everyone needs to live by some set of rules to be happy, or whether we all need somewhere to go where we feel like we fit in? I’m not sure but it’s certainly food for thought.
I really liked the ending of Convenience Store Woman and the way that Keiko finds a way to be true to herself. I got totally invested in her as a character so I was pleased to see that she got everything figured out in her own unique way.
Overall I thought that this was a cute, hilarious quick read with a host of brilliant characters that also managed to ask some pretty big questions. I understand that the book has been a huge hit abroad so I hope it does well over here too.
Rating: Four loud konnichiwas out of five.
Cute, quirky fiction with great characters and a healthy dose of hilarious Japanese weirdness. Highly recommended.
Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!