Writer: Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
Publishing House: Grove Press
Date of Publication: June 12th 2018 (first published July 27th 2016)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’It is the start of another day, the time when the world wakes up and the cogs of society begin to move. I am one of those cogs, going round and round. I have become a functioning part of the world, rotating in the time of day called morning.’’
Keiko has been working in the same convenience store in Tokyo for eighteen years. She is not interested in finding a new job, she doesn’t particularly want to hang out with her few acquaintances, and having a family of her own or even a relationship has never crossed her mind. And even though her family loves her, they are afraid she’s not going to ‘’make it’’ in the ‘’real world’’. Whatever that means, anyway. Keiko needs instructions so as not to be ‘’different’’. Working in the Hiromachi Station Smile Mart allows her to function under an umbrella of specific patterns of behaviour. When a (disgusting to the core) young man comes to work in the store, he unwittingly provides Keiko with the chance to understand that the problem lies with the others, not herself.
‘’From now on, we existed only in the service of the convenience store.’’
Sayaka Murata creates a superb story, set in a vivid urban setting, in the heart of Tokyo. Within the boundaries of the store, we understand that rules dictating what to wear, how to speak, how to smile need to be obeyed. So there is no room for individuality, and there are limited opportunities to advance. And that’s fine. Let’s face it, most jobs are the same. We can’t just walk right into our classrooms, our private practices, our shops, our offices and start dancing naked, screaming profanities. We all wear our ‘’work’’ uniform every day, we all obey to job rules, strict or less strict, and this is completely understandable. For me, and for Keiko, the dangerous territory is the world outside, the terrain of obligatory socializing and social rules that have no basis anymore, yet need to be fulfilled. Why? Don’t ask me, I don’t know. Ask those who enjoy mingling and getting married…
‘’When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why. I found that arrogant and infuriating, not to mention a pain in the neck. Sometimes I even wanted to hit them with a shovel to shut them up, like I did that time in elementary school.’’
Keiko is my spirit animal. Enough said.
She is tremendously perceptive. Her observations on people’s behaviour and facial expressions are spot on. The insults are constant, coming from ‘’friends’’, but Keiko doesn’t respond. She doesn’t know how. Until she finally lifts her head and strikes back, exhausted by the abominable behaviour of a man who embodies all that is fake, cheap and toxic in the construction of a society where women and men believe they have the right to meddle with one’s life just because she doesn’t want to ‘’find someone’’. This is a society that will cast you out if you’re not interested in sex or money. This is a society with an orgasmic fixation on age, motherhood, social status and wealth. This is superficiality in its most extreme, tormenting, tyrannical form. And Keiko sends each one of them to Hell because she can.
Clever and funny, and quite unsettling, even shocking at times, this gem of Japanese Literature is a quirky, yet poignant story of individualism, choice, expectations and a monstrous society. Absolutely wonderful!
‘’No. It’s not a matter of whether they permit it or not. It’s what I am.’’