Power and Self-Dominance. These are the words I would wholeheartedly use to describe Convenience Store Woman. The power to be yourself, and the dominance you should exercise to create your own boundaries and maintain your happiness in the form you envision the most. From the eyes of Keiko Furukura, a simple woman leading a normal working life, we explore a striking microcosm of society, and how the individuality of a person is constantly under pressure and criticism by forces greater than one’s own.
A world of sound, that’s how the Convenience Store, the main setting choice of the novel is described by the narrator Keiko. What the reader sees and hears are exactly the things she gets exposed to on daily basis, but processed through her mental gears. The normal sounds of the bar code scanner and the familiar pristine food products on the shelves constitute her world. In her mind, everything she does is logical and sensible. In her mind, she cannot be defeated.
When she tries to fix problems, she does it in ways that others cannot comprehend, and looks at things around her from the degree of their usefulness, instead of what the precombined notions of society are regarding the topic in question. She keeps repeating time after time that she strives to become a normal person, and only feels that she is so through becoming a cog in a wheel, a non-existent self in the grand scheme of things.
In a descriptive, but non-criticizing way, we explore how the Japanese mind tackles the subject of self-exploration through pursuing the absence of self. Keiko doesn’t think of herself as a person, not even 1% of herself actually belongs to her. She even uses maths to describe how her body is composed of the people around her that she interacts with on a daily basis, and how her manner of speech is influenced (and also influence) by the people around her. At this point, it felt like a really sad monologue for me at this point.
She is not an oblivious woman, on the contrary, she is very perceptive of the people around her, even from a very young age. She looks into people’s eyes and translates the emotions glaring from them, then conforms them into one of the labels that are constraining her by society, the labels that are preventing her from becoming the human she strives to be. She is trying her hardest in life, but one around her wants to look at her efforts, at the person who she really is.
The portrayal of her mind is amazingly written in a way that describes the flesh and blood of working people more than just summarizing their outside features according to sexual preferences/needs. The people in this novel are in constant pain, from work, from society’s expectations, and the author uses Keiko’s unique perspective to transcribe their blood and sweat into voices, feelings, and memories, instead of personal understandings and observations.
All of the characters in these novels are more than just what they are because they are looked at through Keiko’s eyes, and through them, she wonders about what it means to have true freedom, and at which point in her life she walks closer to acquiring the title human. Maybe it was when she was young, when she was able to say what she would like to say without reserve, or maybe when she got older, and lost the chance to actually voice what she really want or need.
The novel ends in a grand declaration about Keiko finally finding out, or coming to terms with what type of human she really is. The original title of this novel is actually コンビニ人間 (Konbini Ningen) or Convenience Store Human, and knowing this can add a comical twist about how the answer was in front of the reader all along, even before they open the pages of the book. I personally recommend this book for anyone working in retail and struggling to move forward with themselves as people, and as human beings.
Convenience Store Woman: A Novel is available as Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle and also as an Audiobook. Purchase your copy from here: Convenience Store Woman
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