Earthlings by Sayaka Murata review – a fizzing tale of alienation

Comfort exists on another planet for the heroine of this dark, explosive follow-up to Convenience Store Woman

Sayaka Murata’s new novel takes the quietly spoken themes of her cult hit Convenience Store Woman and sends them into orbit. The two books might be seen as siblings, though Earthlings would definitely be the evil twin. Both feature young women who reject society’s expectations and seek comfort in replacement forms of community. For Keiko in Convenience Store Woman, it was the reassuringly uniform, striplit security of the shop where she had worked all her adult life. For 10-year-old Natsuki in Earthlings, it’s the imaginary planet Popinpobopia, which she believes to be her destiny, at least according to her cuddly toy Piyyut.

So far, so kawaii, but the cute whimsy unrolled before the reader in the opening pages turns out to be covering a trapdoor. Natsuki conjures a makeshift family out of Piyyut and her cousin Yuu because her existing family doesn’t work. Her mother calls her “hopeless … she’s like a weight around my neck”. Natsuki and Yuu carry out a mock marriage, pledging to one another to “survive, whatever it takes”.

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