In his recent introduction to the Penguin Book of Japanese Short Fiction, Haruki Murakami openly declared his lack of interest in the so-called 'I stories', a very popular section of the contemporary Japanese literature.
However, for someone who is not living in Japan but interested in the literary phenomenon, among other things, such approaches reveals interesting aspects about the inhabitants of this country, the intellectual reaction to everyday social facts and cultural artifacts.
The 36-year old Keiko Furukura is happily enjoying her work at a convenience store. First a part-time job she started during her university studies, it turned into a full time professional assignment. She doesn't want more than that and the mechanical behavior learned through her practice in the store are a personal staple nowadays. She has security and comfort and relies on her close family to offer explanations about why she is, after all, still in the same job for over a decade and happy with it. Why, for instance, she is happy being unmarried and without any history of personal intimacy, and not interested in romantic relationships. She always was 'strange', she confessed, and her lack of normality is nowadays mostly reflected through the open disaproval of her next to kin.
In a subtle way, Sayaka Murata openly put into question the normality in the Japanese society, the ways in which the projections and expectations affects the personal perception on others and self-perception of individuals not necessarily conform to this view. Keiko has a stable job and is successfully conforming to what is expected from her at work, but her personal life is not, therefore she is considered a falure.
The social pressure means full conformity, and even she is not doing anything, trying to be as anonymous as possible, the society at large doesn't accept her. There is no place for half-ways.
Although Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is slow-paced, told in a very introspective way which is not always equally interesting, the social landscape it is carefully painted has the strength of a stroke. It asks the reader to think and reconsider the previous thoughts about women in Japan, especially single women which do enjoy their mechanical professional life in a convenience store (the author herself is working as one of them).
Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review