Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. In the convenience store, she finds a predictable world. She feels comfortable in her life, but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis―but will it be for the better?
You can add to this list...of...first-rate new novels ... one pleasure of this book is her detailed portrait of how such a place [a convenience store] actually works. Yet the book's true brilliance lies in Murata's way of subverting our expectations.
It's not simply that Keiko finds liberation, even happiness, by becoming a cog in the capitalist machine, an unsettling idea when you think about it. Murata also makes us see how the family members who find her love of the store's rituals strange are themselves trapped within a set of rules - dress this way, don't talk like that, get married and have kids. But unlike her, they—and maybe we—don't know it.
The novel borrows from Gothic romance, in its pairing of the human and the alluringly, dangerously not. It is a love story, in other words, about a misfit and a store. Or is horror the more accurate genre? ... One eerie achievement of Convenience Store Woman is that the reader is never entirely sure how to think about Keiko. Is she monstrous? Brave and eccentric? ... Murata’s flattened prose has a bodega-after-11-p.m. quality: it feels bathed in garish, fluorescent light. If Keiko comes off as frightening and robotic, so does the entire universe in which her story unfurls ... But, for all the disturbance and oddity in Convenience Store Woman, the book dares the reader to interpret it as a happy story about a woman who has managed to craft her own 'good life.' ”
In Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, a small, elegant and deadpan novel ... [a]n issue Murata leaves hanging, tantalizingly, is how deranged Keiko might or might not be. Clearly she longs for an authoritarian hand on her shoulder; she wants to know, at all times, what to do. ('Hai!') But in delineating her, Murata flirts with genuine darkness ... Convenience Store Woman is short, and it casts a fluorescent spell. Like a convenience store, it is chilly; it makes you wish you had brought a sweater. At the same time, it’s the kind of performance that leaves you considering the difference between exploring interesting topics and actually being interesting ... I have mixed feelings about Convenience Store Woman, but there is no doubt that it is a thrifty and offbeat exploration of what we must each leave behind to participate in the world.