I hadn’t been reading for a while and felt the need to ease my way back in via very short novels. These two – Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, and The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami – are both written in simple, deadpan styles that make for fast reads, the Murata novel in a somewhat mechanical tone suited to its themes, the Kawakami novel delicate, sometimes verging on twee. They’re linked thematically, both being told in the first person by young women narrators who work in retail, and both addressing sexual behaviours, relationship options, relationship to employments.
Both present contemporary young Japanese people shying away from sexual relations and intimacy, instead seeking identity in service transactions, workplace routines, and (at least in Kawakami) objects imbued with emotional significance.
Although I have visited Japan, and although I have a decades-long interest in East Asian arts and cultures, I am very far from being equipped to report meaningfully on these narratives. Instead, after organising my own thoughts I sought out reviews that opened up the narratives for me.
There is nothing I can write that could better present these two texts than the two reviews linked here. I thank both Xi Chen and MW Larson.
What I will say: Reading Convenience Store Woman, I occasionally laughed wryly, with some discomfort; reading The Nakano Thrift Shop, I quite often laughed out loud, screenshotting pages to text to my sister. Ultimately, The Nakano Thrift Shop was a feel-good light read. I couldn’t say that of Convenience Store Woman, but it spoke to me more strongly.
Convenience Store Woman as read by Xi Chen: https://medium.com/literally-literary/sayaka-muratas-parable-of-alienation-25a188337adb
The Nakano Thrift Shop as read by MW Larson: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-anxiety-of-intimacy-in-hiromi-kawakamis-the-nakano-thrift-shop/