What is “Normal”?

I read A Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata for the Reading Women 2020 Challenge, and it’s an example of why I like trying these challenges:  I would not have found this book without a push to read a book translated from an Asian language or set in Japan.  The narrator, Keiko, doesn’t view the world or her life the same way her family and friends do—she has worked in a convenience store very happily for many years and has no interest in developing relationships, whether friendly or romantic. 

She occasionally gets together with her small group of friends because she feels it’s expected, and she actively performs the role of a “normal” person with them.  Keiko’s sister in particular pushes her to leave her convenience-store job for something more career-oriented and to find a boyfriend. The book is more of a character study than a plot-driven novel, but the plot revolves around Keiko’s way of handling the conflict between outside expectations and how she wants to live her life.  Will she be happier if she does what her sister wants or what she wants?  Is it even possible for her to live the life her sister wants?

I like novels that dive into who a person is and focus on the main character’s inner life—I don’t need much in the way of action—so this suited me.  I enjoyed the glimpses into Japanese culture as well, although because this novel is so focused on Keiko and her narrow life, the setting (beyond the convenience store itself) does not play a huge role. 

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