Review: Sayaka Murata - "Convenience Store Woman"
I might or might not have a midlife crisis.
“I am one of those cogs, going round and round. I have become a functioning part of the world, rotating in the time of day called morning.”
"Convenience Store Woman" is another book I mainly picked up, because it was recommended by a booktuber (it was Cindy, if anyone wants to check out her massively successful channel and doesn't know her yet). I would never have picked it up by myself because it would probably not stand in the section of the bookstore I usually walk into nor would it have come up in my suggestions either on Amazon or TheStoryGraph (just in case you are not aware that Goodreads is not a thing any more).
It is a very short book, I'd say novella rather than novel length, and it's a bit like stream-of-consciousness writing. We have our protagonist and she's a bit odd as a kid. There are hints she might be autistic but it's never confirmed. As this is set in Japan and I don't know how good they are with recognizing autism there, I don't know if there's awareness of it or not in their society. What I know though is how important "fitting in" is in Japan.
It was mentioned a few times in the comment sections of the usual places one buys books in times of pandemics, that one needs to have some knowledge about the Japanese culture and their way of thinking to completely "get" the book. Now, my knowledge of Japanese culture is extremely limited as in: I have read my fair share of mangas and one of my beta readers lived in Yokohama for a while and told me a bit about his life there, but seriously, I am aware I have no idea what life on that island is like. And still, I "got" the book and the message behind it. At least one message behind it, whether it's the intended one or not.
So, to quickly explain our plot: We have this woman who is a little odd in the beginning and she's very aware that she is strange, but she develops techniques to hide her strangeness. Mainly by imitating other "normal" people. When we meet her, she is in her thirties and still working part-time in a convenience store. While that was acceptable when she was still in school and college, her family and friends are now not happy about this any more. At her age she should have a "proper" job, and obviously also a boyfriend (or better, husband) and a family.
As we see the world through her eyes, we realize that these people who want her to be happy do not realize one extremely important thing: That she is happy right where she is. She's fine where she is. She has found a space for herself and that space is good for her even though her otherness makes her consider herself "not human" this is not a bad thing for her, it's a fact, it's her reality, and it's okay.
Because the pressure gets too much at one point though, she then makes an effort to follow everyone else's advice and become who they want her to be.
"Convenience Store Woman" is a very quick read. Also, it's very character-based and if you prefer plot-driven stories, this is not for you. But when I heard Cindy speak about it, I was so convinced I needed to read it and it absolutely met my expectations.
Now, I am neither Japanese nor autistic, but even in a European country, there are always societal expectations, there's always a "norm" that someone has set up. This norm is different for everyone in a way, but there are certain things expected of you as a woman in her thirties with an academic background. Some of them, I'm totally fine with and some of them not so much. And there seem to be an awful lot of people who know what's good for you and what you have to do to be happy. Even though you're fine and content where you are. I know there might be people out there who have never experienced anything similar and I congratulate you, because you're damn lucky, but if you have been there and felt cornered like that, this book is definitely worth a read. 3/4 because it is definitely a good book, but it's not one I would re-read.