In the opening pages of Convenience Store Woman, Keiko Furukura is in her element, at work in the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart. She knows what the displays need, how properly to promote the day's featured item, when the cold drinks need replenishing. She reads her customers expertly: "Instantly I deduce that he will use electronic money." She is a valued employee and good at her job. The mingled beeps, dings, rustles and clacks of the convenience store form a "sound that ceaselessly caresses [her] eardrums."
Few situations in Keiko's life have been so easy. In primary school, she often responded to the world in ways others thought wrong: offering to cook and eat a dead bird on the playground, applying a shovel to the skull of a classmate in order to break up a fight. She wasn't a violent child; these just seemed like practical strategies. Life presented a series of puzzles she could not decipher, until the day she went to work at the Smile Mart. The convenience store offers Keiko a uniform, a series of set lines to be spoken to customers and a manual for staff behavior.
Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata's English-language debut, is a compelling novel about conformity in society, and the baffling rules applied in work and life. This brief, brisk novel is an engrossing adventure into an unusual mind. Murata holds the reader rapt, wondering what Keiko will do next. Convenience Store Woman is for all kinds of readers, for anyone who's ever questioned the status quo. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia