Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

“So, the manual for life already existed. It was just that it was already ingrained in everyone’s heads, and there wasn’t any need to put it in writing. The specific form of what is considered an “ordinary person” had been there all along, unchanged since prehistoric times I finally realized.”  

Earlier this week, with a new colleague, I had a conversation about language and accessibility in reference to Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s a conversation that came back to me when I finished this book. We have all aped over meticulously written, metric bound celebrated literature but we don’t talk nearly enough about accessible, simple language that betters the story.  

The joy of this book begins with that simple language, and goes further with the world Murata has convincingly built. Not for a moment does a world beyond Keiko’s exist for the reader. She even makes a kooky, unkind Shiraha plausible by juxtaposing what society to does to those who are different in any way that isn’t already prescribed in the widely acknowledged, never spoken of memo on being human that the “normal” society has received. 

“When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why.” 

It would be apt to call this book of the slice-of-life genre, and I take joy in doing this because it acknowledges emerging stories of varied lives lived. Bringing to readers, more than ever before, a diversified understanding of our existence no matter if we are cloistered into our domes of existence due to identity, politics, gender, or the pandemic. 

Keiko Furukura has found a lease of life that she enjoys since she started working in a convenience store, 18 years ago. She struggles with the claustrophobic ways of “normal” living that her society tries to coerce her into. She brings to life an old paraphrased quote – “I am all I have seen, and who I have met”. Keiko’s speech pattern, language, mannerisms are learnt by others around her who belong to the “normal” sphere. To her, all of this is logical, when something isn’t working, you try that which might, by learning from those who have succeeded.  

“After all, I absorb the world around me, and that’s changing all the time. Just as all the water that was in my body last time we met has now been replaced with new water, the things that make up me have changed too.” 

As I finish the book, I am left with a story that has already found its home in the recesses of my brain. A story that I will always come back to when I need guidance in learning more of this world, and a Keiko whose existence was truly her own till the very end.