Tuesday 14 April 2020

Convenience Store Woman

For some reason I've been very drawn to books by Japanese and Korean writers of late. Particularly to books by women writers. I've bought quite a few of them of course, but hadn't got to reading any of them yet. Most of them are tantalisingly short and with my attention span and concentration all but shot by the disaster movie that is 2020 I was looking for a nice short comforting read, and I was hopeful that Convenience Store Woman would fit the bill. I think it mostly did.

Keiko Furukura is 36 years old, she somewhat accidentally started working at a convenience store in Tokyo when she was 18 years old, and she's never left the security that she found there. 
The tinkle of the door chime as a customer comes in sounds like church bells to my ears. When I open the door, the brightly lit box awaits me - a dependable, normal world that keeps turning. I have faith in the world in that light-filled box. 
Keiko has always been unusual. Particularly literal as a child, she becomes quite a loner as she grows up. As a young uni student she finds a part time job at a Smile Mart. 
At that moment, for the first time ever, I felt I'd become a part in the machine of society. I've been reborn, I thought. That day, I actually became a normal cog in society. 
Keiko is comforted by the routines and rhythms of the store. The store training, the uniform, the scripted phrases and preferred facial expressions, all make her more comfortable. "It was the first time anyone had ever taught me how to accomplish a normal facial expression and manner of speech." 
For breakfast I eat convenience store bread, for lunch I eat convenience store rice balls with something from the hot-food cabinet, and after work I'm often so tired I just buy something from the store and take it home for dinner. I drink about half the bottle of water while I'm at work, then put it in my eco bag and take it home with me to finish at night. When I think that my body is entirely made up of food from this store, I feel like I'm as much a part of the store as the magazine racks or the coffee machine. 
I've long held a similar notion, but about the culinary highlights of my life, not the slapdash lunches I eat at work. I like to think that at least a few carbon atoms that I ate for lunch at the Ritz in Paris in 1998 are still rattling about inside me somewhere. The carbon that made up those truffles on the pasta or the Golden Wine of the Jura that I had for lunch that day are still locked away in my cells. I'm sure they are. Better that than thinking the remnants of some chicken nuggets that I scoffed in a car one day are still there. 

I did like how Keiko (Ms Furukura really to me) refers to the many store managers she has seen come and go in numerical order. Currently Manager #8 is in charge. I didn't enjoy the change to the narrative when a new employee Shiraha arrives later in the book. 

On the whole though I did enjoy this quirky tale about an unusual woman. And now not only do I want to read more Japanese and Korean books, I want to go to a Tokyo convenience store on a hot summer day, and have some rice balls (onigiri) or spicy cod roe pasta, and a cold drink, and wonder about the staff working there, and what their life is like.

Convenience Store Woman is the first of Sayaka Murata's ten books to be translated into English.  Translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

1 comment:

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I was very interested in the character in this book, and I also liked it that the story didn't end with a big scene.