Women Who Don’t

Journal: 090

I have just read three books, coincidentally one after the other, for which the title of this post is both relevant and interesting. They were , in order –
Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach (2007)
Sayaka Murata, Earthlings (2018)
Melanie Rehak, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the women who created her (2020)

I meant, the order in which I read (listened to ) them, but it seems also to be the order in which they were written.

On Chesil Beach is the least interesting of the three. McEwan clodhoppers his way through a typical 1950s marriage/wedding night in which the bride discovers at the last moment that she would rather not have sex, but soldiers on anyway, and the equally inexperienced groom is excited by his wife’s amateur fumblings into premature ejaculation.

McEwan appears to arrive at the conclusion that the husband’s anger at this outcome is justified, and that the subsequent failure of their marriage is of no consequence. I have read other McEwans, but remember none of them, except that they all left me with a sour taste in my mouth, and am not inclined at this stage to read another.

Earthlings I own and failed to enjoy first time round, put off, I think, by the grotesque ending. I’m not sure what made me pick up the audiobook at the library – probably the fact that any work of Literature must stand out in the great swamp of general fiction in which suburban libraries seem to specialise – but I am now a fan of the book and of Sayaka Murata, who is of course the author also of Convenience Store Woman.

The protagonist of Earthlings is Natsuki, who does it once, aged 11, with her cousin Yuu, which causes such a fuss in her wider family that she never does again. In her 30s, wishing to at least seem to be fitting in, she advertises for a like-minded man and so obtains Tomoya, whom she subsequently marries.

Nancy Drew is a slightly different case, in that although she is 16, and later 18, in all the many Nancy Drew books, her originators keep her in a pre-sexual state to maintain the faith with her largely 10-13 year old readership.

That is all I wish to say about my heading.

Well, nearly all. I should add that Natsuki’s disinclination as an adult to engage in sex also stems from her being molested by a cram-school teacher, and being disbelieved by her mother. In fact, her union with her friend and cousin Yuu, whom she only sees at her grandmother’s house in the mountains each summer, stems from her wish to lie with someone of her own choosing before she is forced to lie with her teacher.

Natsuki is able to free herself from the teacher and this ties in with the ending. But the central thesis of Earthlings is that society is a Baby Factory; that ‘earthlings’ are all components in the machinery of the Factory; that free will can only be exercised by refusing to take part, by becoming ‘aliens’.

Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is routinely read as the amusing reactions of a woman ‘on the spectrum’ to having to find a productive a niche in society. But I think now that Murata is trying to say that it is not rational to ‘find a productive niche’. That society is so antithetical to a freely lived life that it is ridiculous to live within it (Convenience Store Woman); and that we should attempt to live outside it (Earthlings). And I don’t think she means just Japanese society, though it is tempting for Westerners to think so.

If I had a paper copy of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the women who created her I would have been bound to write a proper review. Though I should say at the beginning that Nancy Drew was created by a man, Edward Stratemeyer, a writer of children’s adventure stories who turned to creating series and employing other writers to fill them out. The ‘women’ of the title are his daughter, Harriet Adams, who took over her father’s syndicate on his death; and Mildred Wirt who actually wrote the original Nancy Drew stories from synopses provided by Stratemeyer.

Nancy Drew went on for 50 odd years, and may still be going on for all I know, and the story of her creation and the rival claimants to be her sole originator is fascinating in itself. But Melanie Rehak frames her story within the idea of the Independent Woman in American (YA) literature. She claims, rightly probably, that every American girl’s original independent heroine is Jo Marsh (Little Women); then goes on to discuss the importance of Nancy Drew as a role model for career-minded girls within the framework of a discussion of first and second wave Feminism. Did I make that sound too dry? I hope not. This is an excellent, listenable work.

Actual Journal stuff: I purchased my new trailer a week or so ago, but have been too busy to go and pick it up. I spent the last week up north doing wide loads with one of Dragan’s trailers. The great bonus of oversize work is stopping when the sun goes down. Sadly, on my very first night out, I found my laptop had failed. Battery probably, or maybe the charger. At least I caught up with some reading.

Recent audiobooks 

Melinda Leigh (F, USA), What I’ve Done (2018) – Crime
Christos Tsiolkas (M, Aus/Vic), 7 1/2 (2021)
Phillipa Gregory (F, Eng), Tidelands (2019) – Hist.Fic/Romance
Ann Pratchett (F, USA), Bel Canto (2001) – Thriller (I was barracking for the kidnappers)
Lisa Gardner (F, USA), One Step Too Far (2022) – Crime Thriller
Laura Lipman (F, USA), And When She Was Good (2012) – Crime
Janet Evanovich & Phoef Sutton (F, USA), Curious Minds (2016) – Crime
Kerry Greenwod (F, Aus/Vic), Murder and Mendelssohn (2013)
Ian McEwan (M, Eng), On Chesil Beach (2007) – Hist.Fic/anti-Romance
Sayaka Murata (F, Jap), Earthlings (2018)
Melanie Rehak (F, USA), Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the women who created her (2020) – NF
Larry McMurtry (M, USA), Sin Killer (2005) – Hist.Fic., Western, Farce

Currently Reading 

Aaron Fa’Aoso with Michelle Scott Tucker (Aus), So Far, So Good (2022) – Memoir
Drusilla Modjeska (F, Aus/NSW), The Mountain (2012)
Ernestine Hill (F, Aus/Tas), The Great Australian Loneliness (1937) – NF

AWWC Aug. 2022

Wed 03Elizabeth LhuedeG.M.M. A Novelist at Home
Fri 05Stories FTANetta Walker, The Old, Old Story
Wed 10Michelle Scott TuckerPatricia Wrightson and appropriation
Fri 12Stories FTADaisy Bates, Aboriginal Stellar Myths
Wed 17Bill HollowayAda Cambridge, Thirty Years in Australia
Fri 19Stories FTAAda Cambridge, The Fourth Home (extract)
Wed 31Whispering GumsEliza Hamilton Dunlop

Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata


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Convenience Store Woman made a bit of a sensation when the English translation was released a couple of years ago, and what was said about it was sufficiently intriguing that when I saw it in a bookshop the other day I promptly bought it. This is the story, told in the first person, of a woman, Keiko Furukura, who aspires to be ‘normal’, is never sure of the rules, but thinks that she has found a niche where she won’t be noticeable, working in a convenience store, for 18 years from when she was 18 years old.

I’m a bit dubious about writers using the voice of someone ‘on the spectrum’ to query the way unspoken rules govern social interaction, basically by showing us the ridiculousness of ‘working to rule’. But I think Murata has a serious purpose, and carries it out quite well. We of course have to decide whether what the author says about rules in her, Japanese society apply more generally. Clive James in his unlamented TV show mocked Japanese for being different, and it would be interesting to know how much self-mockery the author intended in her description of start-of-shift rituals, practising greetings and sales spiels (and yes, I’ve been a trainee Encyclopedia Britannica door-to-door salesman, and the rituals were not much different).

The novella, charts a month or so in Keiko’s life when she is made to realise that she is not as normal-seeming as she had thought. The catalyst for this realisation is a meeting of her girlfriends, and I must say the most unlikely aspect of this story was that Keiko kept up with her married school friends., and that they chose to keep up with her.

Keiko’s younger sister has given Keiko some stock responses to questions about why she is unmarried, why she continues after all these years in her student job as a part-time convenience store worker. She cites fragile health, but for once a friend’s husband calls bullshit

He stared at me as though I were some kind of alien. “What, you never …? I mean, if finding a job is so hard, then at least you should get married. Look, these days there are always things like online marriage sites, you know,” he spluttered….

The next thing I knew, just like that time in elementary school, they all turned their backs on me and started edging away, staring curiously at me over their shoulders as though contemplating some ghastly life form. Oh, I thought absently, I’ve become a foreign object.

Keiko loves the structured environment of the convenience store. There are rules, rules which she can see the purpose for, there’s a manual for heaven’s sake. She eats to be fit to work. Goes to bed early. Feels the rhythms of the store even when she’s away. She dreams the store. But if her friends had never accepted her ‘normalcy’ then she must try something new.

Her current store manager, store manager #8, has trouble retaining staff. He hires a misfit, Shiraha, a guy about Keiko’s age who should have been a salaryman years ago, who kicks against the rules, comes late, doesn’t restack the shelves with product in orderly rows, complains constantly

“Everyone here is a stupid loser. It’s the same in any convenience store. You’ll only find housewives who can’t get by on their husband’s salary, job-hoppers without plans for the future, and the crappiest students who can’t get better jobs like being a home tutor. Or foreigners who send money home. All losers.”

He wants a wife, a wife with money who will enable him to stay home and set up an on-line business. As is the way with all these jobs, he doesn’t get the sack, he’s just given zero hours. One night Keiko sees him hanging around outside the store and on the spur of the moment she proposes that he come home with her. Her sister, her parents, her friends, her workmates are ecstatic, Keiko is normal after all, she’s living with a guy.

In the one room apartment Keiko and Shiraha barely interact. He sleeps on a futon in the bath – so that they must use the public coin-operated shower – watches movies on his tablet, she feeds him boiled veg and rice. He never goes out and she is mostly at work. He wants her to get a real job. She quits the store!

At uni I studied existentialism, I read lots of Sartre, I regarded myself as a existentialist. Murata seems to me to be asking the question: if we act a role are we in bad faith? Sartre says yes. But I think Murata is saying that Keiko constantly questions the role that she knows she is playing, that is, she is in good faith. Convenience Store Woman starts slowly but quickly becomes a thoughtful, yes sometimes funny, but always rivetting read.


Sayaka Murata, Convenience Store Woman, first pub. in Japanese, 2016. English ed., Granta, London, 2018. Translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Kim at Reading Matters (here) enjoyed it too, for different reasons probably. Melanie at Grab The Lapels (here) was troubled by CSW and found Shiraha’s relationship with Keiko abusive. I think Keiko knowingly used Shiraha, but what would be the fun in always being in agreement.