Novella a Day in May 2020 #1

Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata (2016, trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori 2018) 163 pages

It’s always with some trepidation that I embark on Novella a Day in May, as I’m never sure I’ll make it to the end. This year the feeling is even more marked, as with all that is happening in the world I’m finding it hard to read as well as write blog posts. But I do really enjoy NADIM, so I’m making a start and I’ll try not to berate myself if I don’t finish this year. Onwards! 

I shouldn’t really worry about not feeling ready or particularly organised, as the world has a way of laughing at such endeavours. I read Convenience Store Woman a while ago and thought I’d get it written up well in advance of NADIM 2020. Then somehow the document got overwritten  – and by somehow I mean I stupidly overwrote it – and I couldn’t recover it. So I’m writing this months after I initially read the novella. It speaks to its strength that even with my terrible memory I could recall how good it is and how much I enjoyed it.

Keiko is in her mid-thirties and has been working in a convenience store half her life. For all of her life, she has never fitted in:

“My parents were at a loss what to do about me, but they were affectionate to me as ever. I’d never meant to make them sad or have to keep apologizing for things I did, so I decided to keep my mouth shut as best I could outside home. I would no longer do anything of my own accord, and would either just mimic what everyone else was doing, or simply follow instructions.”

Within the highly ordered, routine environment of the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart convenience store, Keiko finds her approach works well.

“For the first time ever, I felt I’d become a part of the machine of society. I’ve been reborn, I thought. That day, I actually became a normal cog in society.”

However, as a woman approaching middle-age, Keiko comes under pressure to become a different type of normal cog. She is always single, with no interest in sex. She will not be getting married or having children any time soon, and the job that was at first tolerated by others, is now thought odd as it is not a career. Her sister has helped by thinking up a lie she can use, that she has health issues that suit a part-time job, or elderly parents that need her support, but still Keiko finds herself coming under closer scrutiny for her life choices.

A new employee at the store, Shiraha, may offer a solution. He is a misogynist with ill-thought out social theories and is completely unlikable. However, if they live together, Shiraha gets a place to stay and Keiko can pretend to fit in. What could possibly go wrong?

Keiko is a truly unique character. She is detached to an almost disturbing extent – whacking a playmate over the head with a shovel as a child, idly wondering about knifing her nephew to keep him quiet. Ultimately though, she is a convenience store woman to her core:

“A convenience store is not merely a place where customers come to buy practical necessities, it has to be somewhere they can enjoy and take pleasure in discovering things they like. I nodded in satisfaction and walked briskly around the store checking the displays. […] I could hear the store’s voice telling me what it wanted, how it wanted to be. I understood it perfectly.”

Convenience Store Woman is funny and almost surreal in places, but it is also an incisive look at what it means to be a woman struggling to find a place of acceptance within a society that oppresses who she truly is.

44 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2020 #1

  1. I was actually thinking of you today, wondering whether you’d do your Novella a Day again and yes you are. A great start. It sounds like such a good book and I’m glad I already have it. I was toying with the idea to join you or to do at least a Post a Day in May. The day isn’t over yet, so maybe. I’m trying to get back into a blogging routine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve ummed and ahhed about picking this up once or twice in the past, but I think your review has tipped me over the edge. It does sound like the type of story I would enjoy.

    There’s something about the work of these contemporary Japanese women writers – Ogawa, Kawakami and now Murata – that feels strangely compelling, often reflecting a sense of urban alienation of isolation from conventional society.

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. I’d hoped to participate with you in this but would have heavily relied on the public library, which isn’t an option under the public closures now. If I do spot some contenders on my bookshelves, I’ll let you know. Convenience Store Woman is definitely on my TBR: I love stories about people at work, to start with, and the tone/style of this one sounds very appealing to me. Glad your month is off to a great start!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did wonder if you’d be joining in, but there’s always next year! It’s such a shame about the libraries, but completely understandable. Mine has put a lot of content online, but nothing like what’s available physically in the lovely building.

      I really hope you enjoy CSW and do let me know any novella recommendations, they’re always welcome 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I know that I would not have the stamina for a novella a day, but I will have a look through the TBR stack and see if there are any I could push to the front of the line this month (if only to make my rather woeful lockdown-reading-stats appear healthier!).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bravo on doing this brilliant challenge again – hooray for all of us. I am sorry that I am not able to join you as I had hoped, but I sure will enjoy reading all your posts. As for CSW, I read this a while ago and the only thing I can remember about it is that I thought I should probably read it again to get more out of it – your review confirms that, so I will add it to the to be re-read pile! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My TBR doesn’t like the sound of your A Novella A Day edition : already one on the wish list. 🙂 And it’s available in French.

    Like last year, I’m going to use your novella ideas to do a reading list for a friend who loves to read but is a doctor with four children. A very busy lady who loves my novella lists because she can finish books in a reasonable amount of time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, dear, May is always terrible for my TBR because of you and your Novella a Day! Off to a fine start with this one, which sounds very tempting. Poor Keiko – if only people would let people be happy instead of always trying to force them to conform to whatever today’s version of success is!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I thought this was a sweet little book. A good one to start the month!
    I wouldn’t worry at all about whether or not you’ll make it to the end – any is better than none! 🙂


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