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Convenience Store Woman
Cover of Convenience Store Woman
Convenience Store Woman
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The English-language debut of one of Japan's most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of "Smile Mart," she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction—many are laid out line by line in the store's manual—and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a "normal" person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It's almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action...

A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

The English-language debut of one of Japan's most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of "Smile Mart," she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction—many are laid out line by line in the store's manual—and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a "normal" person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It's almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action...

A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book A convenience store is a world of sound. From the tinkle of the door chime to the voices of TV celebrities advertising new products over the in-store cable network, to the calls of the store workers, the beeps of the bar code scanner, the rustle of customers picking up items and placing them in baskets, and the clacking of heels walking around the store. It all blends into the convenience store sound that ceaselessly caresses my eardrums.

    I hear the faint rattle of a new plastic bottle rolling into place as a customer takes one out of the refrigerator, and look up instantly. A cold drink is often the last item customers take before coming to the checkout till, and my body responds automatically to the sound. I see a woman holding a bottle of mineral water while perusing the desserts and look back down.

    As I arrange the display of newly delivered rice balls, my body picks up information from the multitude of sounds around the store. At this time of day, rice balls, sandwiches, and salads are what sell best. Another part-timer, Sugawara, is over at the other side of the store checking off items with a handheld scanner. I continue laying out the pristine, machine-made food neatly on the shelves of the cold display: in the middle I place two rows of the new flavor, spicy cod roe with cream cheese, alongside two rows of the store's best-selling flavor, tuna mayonnaise, and then I line the less popular dry bonito shavings in soy sauce flavor next to those. Speed is of the essence, and I barely use my head as the rules ingrained in me issue instructions directly to my body.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    April 1, 2018
    A sly take on modern work culture and social conformism, told through one woman's 18-year tenure as a convenience store employee.Keiko Furukura, a 36-year-old resident of Tokyo, is so finely attuned to the daily rhythms of Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart--where she's worked since age 18--that she's nearly become one with the store. From the nails she fastidiously trims to better work the cash register to her zeal in greeting customers with store manual-approved phrases to her preternatural awareness of its subtle signals--the clink of jangling coins, the rattle of a plastic water bottle--the store has both formed her and provided a purpose. And for someone who's never fully grasped the rules governing social interactions, she finds a ready-made set of behaviors and speech patterns by copying her fellow employees. But when her younger sister has a baby, questions surrounding her atypical lifestyle intensify. Why hasn't she married and had children or pursued a more high-flying career? Keiko recognizes society expects her to choose one or the other, though she's not quite sure why. When Shiraha--a "dead-ender" in his mid-30s who decries the rigid gender rules structuring society--begins working at the store, Keiko must decide how much she's willing to give up to please others and adhere to entrenched expectations. Murata provides deceptively sharp commentary on the narrow social slots people--particularly women--are expected to occupy and how those who deviate can inspire bafflement, fear, or anger in others. Indeed, it's often more interesting to observe surrounding characters' reactions to Keiko than her own, sometimes leaving the protagonist as a kind of prop. Still, Murata skillfully navigates the line between the book's wry and weighty concerns and ensures readers will never conceive of the "pristine aquarium" of a convenience store in quite the same way.A unique and unexpectedly revealing English language debut.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 9, 2018
    Murata’s slim and stunning Akutagawa Prize–winning novel follows 36-year-old Keiko Furukura, who has been working at the same convenience store for the last 18 years, outlasting eight managers and countless customers and coworkers. Keiko, who has a history of strange impulses—wanting to grill and eat a dead bird, pulling down a hysterical teacher’s pants to get her to be quiet—applied to work at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart on a whim. Where someone else might find the expected behavior for convenience store workers arbitrary and strict, Keiko thrives under such clear direction, finally finding a way to be normal. In fact, she thinks of herself as two Keikos: her real self, who has existed since she was born, and “convenience-store-worker-me.” But normalcy is not static, as Keiko discovers. The older she gets, and the further she drifts from milestones like having a “real” job, marrying, and having children, the more her friends and family push her towards change. She strikes a sham marriage deal with a lazy and shifty ex-coworker, which, though it finally makes her “normal” in the eyes of others, throws her entire life and psyche into turmoil. Murata’s smart and sly novel, her English-language debut, is a critique of the expectations and restrictions placed on single women in their 30s. This is a moving, funny, and unsettling story about how to be a “functioning adult” in today’s world. Agent: Kohei Hattori, the English Agency.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2018

    Murata here makes her English-language debut with this 2016 winner of Japan's prestigious Akutagawa Prize. It offers a spare recounting of the life of 36-year-old Keiko Furukawa, a single woman who has worked part-time in a convenience store for exactly half her life. Perceived since childhood as not being "normal" by those around her, Keiko describes how her work at the Smile Mart convenience store brings her a sense of rebirth, allowing her to connect minimally with coworkers and even Miho, a friend with whom she became reacquainted after attending an alumni reunion. Daily life is comfortable and routine for Keiko until she encounters Shiraha, a former Smile Mart employee who was let go owing to his own peculiar behavior. Murata's writing, nicely rendered by Takemori's translation, uses the characters of Keiko and Shiraha to deliver a thought-provoking commentary on the meaning of conforming to the expectations of society. VERDICT While Murata's novel focuses on life in Japanese culture, her storytelling will resonate with all people and experiences. A solid selection for most fiction audiences and fodder for book group discussions.--Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Sayaka Murata
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