Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murato – relative normality

“relative normality”

Logical to a fault, as the other children weep over a dead bird, Keiko appals her mother by suggesting they take it home to cook for her father who has a penchant for eating small birds, grilled Japanese style. This is just one example of the possibly autistic behaviour which sets her apart from “normal people”.  As an adult, despite her university education, Keiko deals with her situation by working for eighteen years in a  clinically bland convenience store, where the rigid routine provides a clear framework to guide her actions, together with the speech patterns and fashion sense of her co-workers for her to imitate. When her small circle of acquaintances begin to criticise her for being unmarried, Keiko comes up with yet another solution which seems pragmatic to her but ludicrous to others.

Although promoted as “hilarious” and “funny”, this book  struck me as quite sad,  in showing how those who do not “fit in” may be  mocked and excluded.  Beneath its quirky approach there lies quite a subtle exposure of the arbitrary, even ludicrous, nature of much accepted “conventional” behaviour, into which people are led by the desire to conform or are conditioned to adopt by, for instance, the promotional offers in the convenience store. Since I believe that Japanese behaviour is more conformist and group-oriented than say, in Britain, a reader may fall into the trap of feeling a little superior, but on reflection, I suspect that  the truth revealed in this book can be universally applied, prompting each of us to question the norms of our own society.

Logical to a fault, as the other children weep over a dead bird, Keiko appals her mother by suggesting they take it home to cook for her father who has a penchant for eating small birds, grilled Japanese style. This is just one example of the possibly autistic behaviour which sets her apart from “normal people”.  As an adult, despite her university education, Keiko deals with her situation by working for eighteen years in a  clinically bland convenience store, where the rigid routine provides a clear framework to guide her actions, together with the speech patterns and fashion sense of her co-workers for her to imitate. When her small circle of acquaintances begin to criticise her for being unmarried, Keiko comes up with yet another solution which seems pragmatic to her but ludicrous to others.

Although promoted as “hilarious” and “funny”, this book  struck me as quite sad,  in showing how those who do not “fit in” may be  mocked and excluded.  Beneath its quirky approach there lies quite a subtle exposure of the arbitrary, even ludicrous, nature of much accepted “conventional” behaviour, into which people are led by the desire to conform or are conditioned to adopt by, for instance, the promotional offers in the convenience store. Since I believe that Japanese behaviour is more conformist and group-oriented than say, in Britain, a reader may fall into the trap of feeling a little superior, but on reflection, I suspect that  the truth revealed in this book can be universally applied, prompting each of us to question the norms of our own society.

Short, neatly plotted, this first person narration in an excellent English translation  proves more thought-provoking than I had expected.

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