I can see why Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman may be disliked by some readers. The story is rather short and something more is yearned for. Nonetheless, it does mimic reality. Although translated from the Japanese, the pressure societal norms enforce upon citizens can be felt everywhere.
The novel follows the narrator Keiko, a character determined as an outcast a child. The first pages tell the reader about key moments in Keiko’s life that made her want to appear normal. First, she explores a time wherein a playground she comes across a dead bird. While everyone thinks they should bury it, Keiko thinks they should take it home for her father to eat — he liked birds, she had observed. When her mother told her no, she figured that one wouldn’t be enough and they should kill some more. Everyone was shocked. The bird is buried and she thinks what a waste.
Keiko spent most of school and university not talking to anyone. She wanted some extra money and came across a newly built convenience store. She applies and gets the job. Here she has a role and place in society. There are rules and manuals and she just needs to follow these. She can appear like a normal person. And those aspects of her life that don’t concern the convenience store she can learn by copying other people. She buys what similar people her age are buying.
She is content. She feels her life is fulfilled. But she is over thirty and her friends think she should be marrying and getting a proper job. Keiko is confused. She thought was doing the right and normal thing by working at the store. Eighteen years ago everyone told her it was. But now she has to choose whether to follow societies plan for her or go her own way.
Although never explicitly stated in the novel, Keiko readers have observed is autistic. The fact it is never mentioned is kind of sad. It suggests that Keiko is never going to be accepted in society with a diagnosis or not. It doesn’t matter because she can never fit into the perfect mould of a Japanese woman.
Another key issue explored for a couple of pages is asexuality. Keiko has never had much thought about sex. When people start to ask her about marriage and children she considers it because it would make her normal. But when another character tells her it would be the worst idea for her to have a child because there would be more people like her in the world, she lets out a sigh of relief.
There is one problem with this book. I wish it were longer. Murata touches on some of the key points that make someone a social outcast but I felt they could have had more discussion. However, I also understand the effect of briefly touching on these points as it would also allow the reader to develop their thoughts. Either way, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata was a witty and insightful little read. And it shares the very important message: let people do their own thing!