Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?
I had been debating reading this book for over a year now, ever since I saw it in Waterstones and later Foyles and kept picking it up and putting it back on the shelf. I’d read mixed reviews but eventually I decided to just bite the bullet and get it. I like what I would call ‘observational’ books and this seemed like exactly that.
“But once they get it into their heads that I’m not normal, since they think they are normal they’ll give me a hard time about it won’t they?…
…When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why.”
This book is full of quotes that resonate in a world where being different is frowned upon. Keiko Furukura has been working at a convenience store part time for years, she enjoys it and has no plans to get a full time job with better pay, date or marry. Unfortunately the society around her cannot understand why she doesn’t want to tick off these milestones so she makes up excuses to pacify them as they continue to try and fit her into a box that she just doesn’t fit into. It would be fair to assume she has autism, though this isn’t expressly stated and at one point her ‘friends’ decided she must be asexual since she has never dated or been in love. Convenience store workers are viewed as the bottom of the corporate ladder and her family and those around her seem worried that she has no ambition to change her situation. I found this a very interesting read about the pressure to conform to what society views as the ideal. Although this is set in Japan, it can easily be juxtaposed into another culture where women are constantly asked when they are going to get married or have kids.
This book is a short read but I honestly don’t think it needs to be longer. The main reason I didn’t rate it higher is that I didn’t like the second half of the book as much as the first. A character is introduced and whilst I completely understand why and how it further proves Sayaka Murata’s point, I just didn’t gel with it as much.
“The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of.”
Trigger Warnings: Misogyny, Ableism, Sexism, Toxic Relationship, and Mental Illness