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The author of “Convenience Store Woman” returns

Earthlings. By Sayaka Murata. Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. Grove Press; 240 pages; $25. Granta; £12.99. 

TWO YEARS ago Sayaka Murata won international acclaim after the English-language publication of “Convenience Store Woman”, in which a shopworker struggles to escape society’s pressures. For 18 years before Ms Murata wrote that book, she had herself worked part-time in a convenience store in Tokyo. “Earthlings”, her second novel to be translated into English by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is another offbeat tale about outsiders in Japan. This time, however, her characters are not only low-status; they are completely ostracised.

When the story begins, the narrator, Natsuki, is 11, and bullied by her mother and sister. “This child is so stupid and slow,” her mother tells a neighbour. “What a disgrace.” Natsuki replies: “Yes, it’s true.” A teacher sexually abuses her. She learns to detach herself from reality for protection, conversing with a toy hedgehog called Piyyut, who Natsuki thinks gives her “magical powers” to fend off violence. She is close only to her cousin Yuu, who is also mistreated by his mother and believes he is an extraterrestrial. In the mountains of Akishina, where each year the family gathers for the Obon festival, Natsuki and Yuu search for a spaceship,...

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