The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
‘Over the years, they’d seen everything in the music shop. There were the regular customers, of course, who came to find new records, but often people wanted something more. Frank had helped them through illness, grief, loss of confidence and jobs, as well as the more everyday things like football results and the weather. Not that he knew about all those things but really it was a matter of listening, and he had endless patience.’
1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need. Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not all she seems.
This isn’t my usual kind of book. Generally I steer clear of romances in favour of thrillers or fantasy. But in 2012 I read Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and fell head over heels for its quirky charm and awkwardly loveable characters. So her latest book, The Music Shop, has been on my radar since it was released last year. And this month, I finally got around to reading it.
This is the kind of book that warms your heart and leaves you with a smile on your face. Joyce has once again shown her deft touch in creating realistic characters with human flaws and weaknesses, and a story that will give you a spring in your step.
Main character Frank is guarded and private, but at the same time empathises with his customers so well that he can recommend the exact music they need at any given point in their lives. He is awkward and sometimes standoffish, but the journey he takes throughout the course of the book is wonderful to watch unfold. It took me a little longer to warm to our other main character, Ilse, but once her motives are revealed her actions all make sense.
Joyce has a wonderful gift for writing about music in a way that immediately makes you want to listen to every song she describes. Music has got to be one of the most amazing things we do as human beings, and Joyce shows just how powerful the right song can be.
The subplot about property developers wanting to take over Unity Street, where Frank has his record shop and where many of his friends have their shops too, gives added depth to the story. Each of these shop owners is lonely in some way, but they have built a small community here that they are reluctant to let go of without a fight.
Admittedly, the ending is incredibly cheesy, but it will also leave you smiling. The trend of ‘up lit’ (optimistic novels about everyday heroism and human connection, like Gail Honeyman’s excellent novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) shows no signs of abating, and The Music Shop is the perfect example of a genre we could all use more of.
If nothing else, it’s sure to give you a new appreciation of your favourite playlist.