The Brown Baggers met virtually on April 16th to discuss Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. A short but strange novel, Convenience Store Woman follows a thirty-something woman named Keiko Furukura who works at, you guessed it, a convenience store. Keiko’s family and friends believe she is stuck in a dead-end job, and because she hasn’t married yet, she must be terribly lonely. They wonder aloud, sometimes even to her face, why she doesn’t strive for more in life beyond her menial job. For Keiko, however, the store is her sanctuary. In the “real world,” Keiko is a misfit who struggles to communicate with those around her–a few members wondered if her inability to relate to and communicate with other humans was a sign of autism–but as a convenience store worker she can hide her eccentricities. Staff must wear uniforms without any jewelry, watches, or other accessories to identify them as individuals, and they are given “scripts” for interacting with customers. When her job is jeopardized, Keiko discovers she has no purpose in society outside of her convenience store.
Murata’s novel is short but packs a punch with its oddball characters and social commentary. Although Keiko is an oddball, she isn’t necessarily a lovable oddball or innocent victim of her circumstances, as the Brown Baggers discussed. Some of her inner thoughts were disturbing, sometimes violent, and made her difficult to relate to or sympathize as a reader. She was, however, a lot more likable than her misogynistic coworker Shiraha who also struggles to fit in with society.
Convenience Store Woman critiques modern Japanese culture, specifically post-capitalism Japan where marriage rates are falling and young men are hiding away in their parents’ homes playing video games. Some interpreted the novel as a warning against finding one’s identity in work above all else. In the novel, Keiko finds solace in the store because she is seen as “normal” for the first time. But is it better to be a cog in the machine of society or to embrace one’s uniqueness and stand out in the crowd? Many Brown Baggers pointed out these philosophical questions were raised in another book club title also written by a Japanese author, Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes.
Murata is an award-winning Japanese novelist who has published at least ten novels. Convenience Store Woman is the first of her novels to be translated into English and the Brown Baggers are eager to see her other works translated in the future.
The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on June 18 to discuss Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details on how to participate via computer or phone.