‘Quirky’ is a word often used to describe Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman. I have used it myself when trying to explain the nature of the protagonist. But I very much doubt that Keiko, the main character and narrator, would describe herself that way. She is a woman who is just trying to find order in a confusing world in the best way that she can.
Keiko Furukura has always been considered strange by her family and fellow students. To her the world is a puzzle and other people’s behaviour confusing. Her family worries that she will never ‘fit in’. When the novel opens, she has been working at the Smile Mart convenience store for eighteen years, having joined as a part-time casual worker while at university. Working in a convenience store is seen a a job for students and job-hoppers, yet she finds comfort in its rules and rituals.
‘It is the start of another day, the time when the world wakes up and the cogs of society begin to move. I am one of those cogs, going round and round. I have become a functioning part of the world…’
But the world just won’t leave her alone to get on with things. Her family, friends and co-workers pressure her to find a husband and a better job… to be ‘normal’ and Keiko is forced to take desperate steps.
The novel is written in a very straightforward, deadpan style so that even as we smile at Keiko’s unusual take on the world we begin to see things from her perspective. Society likes to classify everyone and prescribe suitable behaviour. Being predictable makes society function more smoothly, or so we are led to believe from a young age. Convenience Store Woman asks the reader to question this. Seemingly a simple tale of an unusual young woman, the novel explores quite complex ideas about society, and how we might live our lives.