Keiko is a misfit. She has had a quirky way of looking at the world ever since she was young, despite her parents attempts for her to be normal. However one day she sees a newly opened convenience store opening, goes for an interview and gets the job. In order to fit in she copies her co-workers habits and, she achieves normality.
Problems start again though. She has been working in a convenience store for 18 years and her school friends and family want her to leave the store and live by society’s rules i.e get a good paying job, marry and start a family.
Keiko then finds solace in Shiraha, who is a misfit as well but is conscious of how society works and decides to move in with Keiko (and taking residence in her bathtub) and he wants her to find a new job. Will she ‘conform’ or is the pull of the convenience store her only link with normality?
Convenience Store Woman is a gentle satire about the pressures of society’s obsession with conforming to it’s norms. In one scene Keiko’s sister is crying because she thinks it is abnormal to live with a male, without marriage in mind. But then Shiraha comes out of the bathroom saying that he and Keiko had a fight over infidelity and he went to hide in her bathroom. Keiko’s sister is overjoyed as she feels that infidelity is normal and then assumes that Keiko is getting married.
The novel is full of little scenes like this. It turns out that society’s rules about normality hinder individuality and it leads to quite a few funny moments in the book. Ironically the convenience store is Keiko’s ticket to normality and probably that’s why she so devoted to it.
Convenience Store Woman reminded me of the existentialist novels that I devoured when I was a teen and the message is the same: conform to the absurdity of life or there will be consequences.
The book is wonderfully translated, and for it’s brevity does provide a lot of food for thought. Also slowly Portobello Books are becoming one the more interesting publishers for cultish and cutting edge translated fiction.
Many thanks to Granta for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.