Translator – Ginny Tapley Takemori
I’m very late for my shift at the Smile Mart but I’m so glad to have finally walked through its doors. There have been eight managers and countless workers serving customers since it first opened eighteen years ago, but Keiko has been there from day one.
I really liked Keiko who, at thirty-six, has never fit into society’s mould. People have wanted to fix her since she was a child. But at the Smile Mart she feels like she fits perfectly.
While I suspect we’re all like this to a certain degree, Keiko’s speech and the way she dresses are an amalgam of the people she spends time with, morphing over time as new people enter her life and others fade away. Keiko doesn’t know how to be normal so it’s a good thing the Smile Mart manual clearly outlines how she is supposed to ‘human’ at work.
When I first started here, there was a detailed manual that taught me how to be a store worker, and I still don’t have a clue how to be a normal person outside that manual.
Over the course of this quick read the rhythm of the convenience store became almost meditative. It got to a point where it almost felt wrong to be reading about any of the hours Keiko wasn’t spending inside the “shining white aquarium” because she was so comfortable there.
I love Keiko’s unfiltered honesty:
When I first saw my nephew through the glass window at the hospital, he looked like an alien creature. But now he’d grown into something more humanlike, complete with hair.
As someone who’s managed to accidentally subvert some of society’s adulting norms, I relate to the relief embodied in the following sentence:
Good, I pulled off being a “person”.
Quite frankly, that’s probably my favourite sentence of the entire book.
And I’m sure I’m not the first reader to think back on an early scene and fantasise about hitting Shiraha with a shovel.
Anyone who’s worked in retail will know Keiko’s coworkers and customers all too well. I worked in retail for seven years and so many of my coworkers and customers came to mind when I met Keiko’s.
Reading Convenience Store Woman actually had me wondering how my four years as Photolab Lady, in the days when negatives still existed and what you’d actually captured on film was one of life’s mysteries until you got it developed, would translate into a story. The stories I could tell about the photos I saw – some funny, some sweet, some heartbreaking, some creepy as hell …
I was really looking forward to this read and it was even better than I’d hoped. I definitely need more books by this author.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Portobello Books, an imprint of Granta Publications, for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
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.