The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Frank could not play music, he could not read a score, he had no practical knowledge whatsoever, but when he sat in front of a customer and truly listened, he heard a kind of song. He wasn’t talking a full-blown symphony. I would be a few notes; at the most, a strain. And it didn’t happen all the time, only when he let go of being Frank and inhabited a space that was more in the middle. It had been this way ever since he could remember.

34203744My first Rachel Joyce novel was a home run! The Music Shop is a page-turning, earnest, feel-good novel, something I’d say we all could use more of these days. It helps if you’re a music lover, but even if you aren’t this novel has plenty to offer. In fact I could see myself someday reading this again for comfort in a time of stress.

Most of the book takes place in 1988, around a struggling record shop that’s on a shabby, quiet street in a nondescript (I think unnamed?) British suburb. It’s owned by Frank, a man who has an uncanny knack for finding just the right album to shake up a person’s life in the way that they need. As good as he is as connecting people with the right music, he is a failure in the love department, not letting anyone get too close to him emotionally. We get hints of past trauma in his upbringing but it’s not until later in the book that the mystery of his past is revealed. Meanwhile, the CD age is upon him, and his record vendors are pressing him to stock CDs in his shop. He refuses, affronted by their lack of character.

But CD sound was clean, the reps argued. It had no surface noise. To which Frank replied, “Clean? What’s music got to do with clean? Where is the humanity in clean? Life has surface noise! Do you want to listen to furniture polish?”

Add a cast of quirky, mostly sweet fellow Unity Street shopkeepers and a bumbling, adorable shop assistant named Kit, and you have a winning atmosphere for the action of our story. A beautiful woman named Ilse Brauchmann faints outside Frank’s shop one day, and his life is never the same. Unable to face what he really feels for Ilse, he starts giving her “music lessons” at a nearby cafe, bringing her albums to listen to with accompanying listening notes. Frank’s shop business is not so good, as people start to want CDs and the city falls on hard times in general. People just aren’t shopping on their little street like they used to. As we watch Frank try to find ways to save his shop, and as he gets closer to Ilse, we also get glimpses of his past in chapters that depict his unusual upbringing by his less-than-maternal mother, Peg. She is the one who makes music so important in his life, but she also does a lot of emotional damage to young Frank with her parental shortcomings. And we come to find that the mysterious Ilse Brauchmann has some secrets of her own.

I just loved this book! I was occasionally frustrated with Frank, for being too guarded and obtuse, but I forgave him when I found out what had scarred him from wanting to love again. The novel had a cinematic feel to it, sort of like a combination of “High Fidelity” and a good rom-com like “You’ve Got Mail” or Notting Hill.” A couple of scenes made me laugh out loud. And the writing is really lovely, not overly descriptive but evocative all the same.

The water was blue-gray with the day’s reflection and trees, and dimpled as far as they could see with the falling rain. They sat for a long time, just watching the rain and smiling, her with one oar, him with the other. By now their hair was so wet it stuck to their heads, and the shoulders of her coat were more black than green, but they stayed out there in the middle of the lake, until the cloud shifted and the evening sun came out, and everything around them, every leaf, every blade of grass, every rooftop in the distance, shone like a piece of jewelry. 

This is the kind of book that made me want to sit down and listen to music the way I used to listen to it in high school. I’d sit on my bedroom floor and do nothing else but let the music wash over me, playing my favorite songs over and over, for hours. I’ve never had a record player of my own, I came along too late for that; my first music was cassette tapes and then the first ones I bought on my own were CDs. And now almost all of my new music purchases are from iTunes. But record albums are making a big comeback, and I’m actually considering getting a record player for the first time.

In any case, whether you’re a music lover or not, this is a heartwarming book that celebrates community and friendship, and taking the risks necessary to live a full life filled with love and relationships. If you’re searching for a lighter contemporary read, one with heart and wit, look no further than The Music Shop.

21 thoughts on “The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

  1. Lovely review! This sounds like a delightful and charming read. I love how you described it as a cross between High Fidelity/You’ve Got Mail/Notting Hill. I bought a record player a little over a year ago and would highly recommend it. Music really is better on vinyl!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have read all of Rachel Joyce’s books apart from this one. For some reason it didn’t appeal because of the 1980s setting. I guess I thought it would feel dated. But you’ve convinced me to give it a try!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The only thing that bugs me about the description of the story is how the beautiful Ilse faints outside his store. If she were plain or homely or ragged, would she have been unable to shake up Frank’s whole world? Another book blogger reviewed this one a while back; I don’t think she liked it, but I can’t remember why.

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  4. Ah, music has never been the same since the demise of the vinyl album! I’m so glad they’re making a comeback – seems to me kids today consume music in 3 minute bites rather than getting lost in a whole album. Ban streaming, downloads and CDs, I say!! (I hated the only Rachel Joyce book I read, The Sickly-Sweet Pilgrimage of the Unlikely Harold, I think it was called, so I’m not tempted by this one… 😉 )

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  5. This sounds like such a heartwarming read. I get why you described it as feel-good story because it sounds like that kind of book. I love how it made you nostalgic about your own youth. It reminded me of cassettes and CDs too. That stopped and for me, I hardly buy music nowadays with everything on YouTube(shame).

    Beautiful review Laila.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I used to do the same thing… sit on my bedroom floor and listen to the same music over and over. And sing along, of course! And I would colour intricate colourful patterns on graph paper with my thin crayola markers. (Even in high school!)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So glad you liked this book. I will give it a go. I liked her debut novel. What genre of music is in it? All kinds of music or popular stuff ? Rock or classical? thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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