Review of The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

The quiet beauty of a store interior. The intentionality of the setting. The sincere dignity of a retail worker. The cyclical expanse of such a life, confined within shrinking walls, hemmed in by the minutiae of the commercial products of everyday life. 

Constant exposure to these mundane implements imbues them with chimerical, mystic qualities, and reminds us that a dioramic life can still be a rich one.

Very similar to the set up of Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, Nakano Thrift Shop takes place in a store in Japan. The employee who narrates our story lives the repetitive rhythms of most retail workers, yet in this manner, exposes the hidden beauties to be found in minimalist lifestyles. That is not to say she is not also fraught with worry, shame, jealousy, loneliness and anxiety. In fact, her experience proves to be both boring and enlightening.

What this short novel does well is portray the feeling and nuance of its setting. It lacks dramatic twists and startling lyricism, but possesses the sophisticated clarity and restraint characteristic of the author’s other books, all of which I enjoyed to some degree. This is for fans of Banana Yoshimoto and for those who can appreciate the subtleties of a Japan frozen in a state of perpetual unrest and gender tension. This genre is often called Slice of Life. In small doses, it offers a refreshing reprieve from one’s own often underwhelming existence.