Convenience Store Woman
One of the most well known pieces of translated Japanese fiction today, and I absolutely loved it. It’s short but made me want to savour it, so I resisted the urge to read it in one sitting.
The plot follows the story of Keiko, a 36-year-old, single, female, Japanese convenience store worker. She’s content with her life, but criticism from friends, family, and coworkers make her question whether her way of life is “normal”. They expect her to have a career, get married and have children. Still, Keiko has no real interest in any of those things and doesn’t understand why society expects it of her. She’s likes her routine and finds a sense of purpose in the smooth running of the convenience store in which she works
The whole story is told in first-person narrative. The scenes are easy to follow as we are always with Keiko and experience the world from her perspective. As a reader, I couldn’t help but take a liking to Keiko. Toward the end, I felt somewhat protective of her when circumstances began to change in her life.
Keiko generally spends a lot of her time filtering her thoughts and actions. The reasons for this are revealed at the start of the book. The tension in the novel comes from understanding just how much of her time revolves around trying to fit in, and the somewhat quirky decision she makes in the last third of the book.
This is a slow to medium paced read, and Keiko’s internal monologue and the surrounding dialogue give the reader a lot to reflect on.
There are several themes in this short book and the video contains a ‘spoiler section’ that discusses elements in greater detail.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
This Korean bestseller chronicles the everyday struggle of women against endemic sexism.
Something is weirdly compelling about the predictable line of events marking Kim Jiyoung’s life. Be born, struggle through sexism during your childhood, adolescence, and finally in the work environment. All Jiyoung’s experiences show how much is stacked against her by her sex.
At every stage, the narration is underpinned by statistics on gender in Korea. Apparently, the name Kim Jiyoung is the Korean equivalent of “Jane Doe”, and it makes sense that author Cho Nam-Joo’s gave her protagonist this name. Jiyoung embodies the voice of every unheard woman.
This is a slow to medium paced read; the dialogue isn’t really what pulled me through the book; it is more the subtle observations about everyday life. The plot is straightforward as it’s nearly a cradle to grave structure, but we don’t follow Jiyoung into an actual grave at an old age. Instead, we meet her in her early thirties, where we can instantly see that she is going through a death of sorts…a death of hopes and dreams. A death of personality and individuality. The book then becomes an examination of how we got there. The tone is clinical since we have a therapist pulling together different elements of Jiyoung’s life. I’ll wrap up this non-spoiler section by saying it’s another thought-provoking read.
King Kong Theory
After pondering the subtle brilliance of Kim Jiyoung, I picked up King Kong Theory by the Virginie Despentes. It is anything but subtle and packs a punk style punch. Virginie’s experiences are not personal to me; she discusses her experience of being a teen punk, her decision to enter into prostitution, and her venture into cinema. Her experiences are miles away from mine, but I found an understanding of her choices. I felt connected to her, even when I didn’t always agree with all her arguments.
She has a vivid way of writing. Her account of being a fifteen year old in therapy struck me because of the absurdity. She explains that she had a therapist with a three hair combover telling her that she needed to make herself pretty instead of ugly – a reference to her black lipstick and green hair. She is not judgemental of others unless they tend towards making definitive pronouncements about how others should be, look, and act, particularly concerning gender roles.
King Kong Theory’s trigger warnings include sexual violence. When I say it packs a punch, expect it to be crude, rude, and unapologetic.
A contrast and yet – for me – a compliment to my other two reads. If you don’t want to read swear words or intentionally provocative sentiments, this might not be your sort of read. On this occassion, I appreciated being shocked and challenged.