Bestsellers, they can bring you so much joy… Or annoyance. The ins and outs of why something becomes a bestseller fascinate me, and I have learnt through the years that, usually, you either love or hate one. The “must read” to me signifies nothing. The fact that a lot of people has read something, does not make the book good. Which sounds like a very normal statement if you think about it, and yet I am not sure a lot of people are aware of this. I am going to take a couple of weeks on novels that are considered a “must read” and see what I made of them.
What is it about?
This is a very short novel by a Japanese author. It’s one of those with a flashy cover and a lot of good reviews by other authors and critics. I should probably have left it when I saw that Sally Rooney liked it (more on that later). This story follows Keiko, who is a full time employee at a Convenience Store in Tokyo. You might or might not know that convenience stores are very common in Japan, they are quite central to a Japanese person’s life. However, I did not know (even if it makes complete sense) that almost no one has a permanent job in a convenience store. A lot of the staff members are either very young, students and the like, who are there to make some small money while they are studying, or foreigners who can only get that job while in Japan. So Keiko is an exception, because she works full time in one of these places. She is what we could call “socially awkward” and the store with its fixed and immutable rules is a safe haven.
What makes it good?
I will not say that I hate this book, but I will say that the hype is unjustified. Some other contemporary stuff (hello, Mieko Kawakami) is much better written and much more interesting than this. You could call it a meditation on not fitting in (in a society where it is of the utmost importance fitting in). And yet, it left me cold. It’s not that it was necessarily bad, but I did not connect with the main character and I thought the story was a bit underdeveloped. Lazy, almost. A half interesting idea out of which came a novella that explores very briefly a deeply un-fascinating character, who even the author does not seem too interested in.
Once again, reading a translated Japanese book and express an opinion on its style can be quite difficult, but I have to put some trust in the concept of translating and so I will give it a go: nothing really stood up, the prose was quite trivial (because, I imagine, it wanted to be reflective of the main character’s thoughts and opinions and vision).
By the way, I spotted some translation mistakes (so evident that could not be unseen) in the edition I had that the overall feeling of “half-arsedness” was just enhanced.
A big, resounding “meh”. Fortunately, not much of my precious time was spent reading this one. With all the good Japanese literature out there, this pretentious and half baked attempt at being “edgy” left me quite cold. Disappointing.