Convenience Store Woman: Sayaka Murata's best-selling English language debut challenges norms of sex and marriage
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Who wrote it: Japanese author Sayaka Murata quit her part-time job at a convenience store to pursue writing full-time in 2017, but she has already written 10 best-selling novels in Japan. Convenience Store Woman is her 10th book and the first one to be translated into English.
What's it about: Convenience Store Woman is narrated through the voice of Keiko, a 36-year-old convenience store worker who has no interest in getting married, having sex or finding a 'better' job after working at Smile Mart for the past 18 years.
Where is it based: As you can guess from the title, much of the action takes place in a convenience store in Tokyo where Keiko has spent over half of her life as a part-time employee. A Japanese convenience store is not like a 7-Eleven store in Singapore where you get your condoms and Slurpees. Japanese konbinis are fluorescent-lit stores that offer a variety of services like Wi-Fi and ATM as well as a drool-worthy selection of snack and meal options: from onigiri to fried chicken. The Japanese pride themselves on excellent customer service so the konbini employee's behaviour is tightly prescribed, as personified by Keiko's staff handbook.
What is the character's arc: It is an eccentric and fascinating look into the curious world of Keiko and how she perceives the people who enter the convenience store every day. Ironically, the mechanical routine in the store allows her to live a seemingly normal life, and even serves as her sanctuary. It also performs as a social commentary on Japan's demographic panic, where an increasing number of young women (and men) have forsaken sex and marriage. Keiko is happy with her asexual lifestyle, but her family and friends assume she is miserable. To alleviate the pressure, she intentionally misleads them into thinking she is staying with her boyfriend when it is just Shiraha, an unreformed misogynist whom she regards as a 'pet'.
Why should you read it: The 176-page novel’s cynical humour and bleak depictions of societal expectations for women to get married and have children are relevant in Singapore where more young women are delaying marriage to build their careers. If not for that, you'll at least think differently about the determinedly emotionless cashier at your local 7-Eleven.