Author : Sayaka Murata
Publisher : Portobello Books
Genre : Contemporary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Source : Publisher
Rating : 4 Stars
Summary : Keiko has never really fitted in. At school and university people find her odd and her family worries she’ll never be normal. To appease them, keiko takes a job at a newly opened convenience store. Here, she finds peace and purpose in the simple, daily tasks and routine interactions. She is, she comes to understand, happiest as a convenience store worker. But in keiko’s social circle it just won’t do for an unmarried woman to spend all her time stacking shelves and re-ordering green tea. As pressure mounts on keiko to find either a new job or worse, a husband, she is forced to take desperate action A best-seller in japan and the winner of the prestigious Akutagawa prize, convenience store woman marks the English-language debut of a writer who has been hailed as the most exciting voice of her generation.
I think I expected too much from this. After all the rave reviews I read I expected a lot more than this book was. Especially from the comparisons with Eleanor Oliphant, I really did expect a lot more than what the book actually was. Now this is in no way reflective of what the book is. It is just that the comparison was unfair and sets different expectations for the reader. The story is not really anywhere close to Eleanor Oliphant. Yes, both books have a female protagonist who doesn’t have the social skills to mingle with people because of whatever mental difficulties they suffer from. But that is where similarities end.
In Convenience Store Woman we see someone who has always been a bit odd. She doesn’t understand that one cannot use any means to achieve an end result. Is the baby crying? Do people want it to stop crying? Wouldn’t killing the baby achieve this? This is how she thinks and thankfully, somehow, she realises this is wrong early on and manages to check the behaviour. But this doesn’t stop her from thinking it and it really isn’t funny and quirky like Oliphant. It is a really interesting book on it’s own but it isn’t Oliphant. The reason I keep saying this is that this is the reason I wanted to read it so much (this and the fact that I love Japanese books). If someone who didn’t like Japanese style writing decided to pick this up based on that comparison it would seriously put them off.
WHAT I LIKED
Mental illness in Japan is a very big deal. A bigger deal than it is in India. From what I hear people do not deal with someone who is mentally ill, they prefer to not have to socialise with them. It is easier to either pretend they are okay or lock them away. I believe it is the same in Korea (I’m just assuming from reading The Vegetarian and watching Kdramas). So reading a book about it that has become successful enough to translate means a lot to people in Japan who are suffering silently.
The character is SO detached. So very detached that it made the book actually easy to get through without getting frustrated with the way she lives. Yes Keiko is at a dead end job but she just doesn’t care and you end up not caring too. It’s that simple. I never thought I’d enjoy reading a book that was so unemotional. But I did! This is a short book and it definitely feels like it, yet it manages to pull you in and keep you engrossed for whatever length of time you spend with it. I finished it in one sitting and you probably will too.
WHAT I DISLIKED
Well I found the translation to be a bit off at times. The sentences were unnecessarily skewed and took away from the continuous flow of the book.
Do not pick this up if you are expecting something like Eleanor Oliphant. Oliphant is heartwarming and emotionally turbulent while this is just quirkly and matter of fact. However you MUST pick this up if you like Japanese books or books that just present a story or a character and allows the reader to feel whatever they are feeling instead of feeling what the author tells you to feel.
Many thanks to the publishers for sending me a copy.