Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata review – sublimely weird

This deadpan Japanese tale of an oddball shop assistant possesses a strange beauty

Not all novel titles manage so very literally to describe the contents, but this one – unapologetically deadpan yet enticingly comic – absolutely does. Keiko has been a worry to her family all her life, bullied and friendless, her behaviour sometimes even chilling. At school she bashes a boy over the head with a shovel to stop him fighting. Another time she asks her mother if she can eat a dead budgie found in the park.

Her salvation appears when, aged 18, she secures herself a job at the local Smile Mart convenience store and, paying conscientious attention to the training video, realises “it was the first time anyone had ever taught me how to accomplish a normal facial expression and manner of speech”. Discovering that she excels at the daily monotone of restocks and product promotions ...