BookBrowse Reviews The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

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The Music Shop

A Novel

by Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce X
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
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  • Published:
    Jan 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

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About this Book



Quirky characters and a keen appreciation for music weave through this heartwarming novel.

There are many reasons we fall in love with stories: characters, plot, settings, topics, questions and answers about the world and ourselves. Usually it's a blend of elements. Some of it is simply timing and our own mood.

It's the same with music. Most of us enjoy listening to different types of music depending on the occasion, setting and our own state of mind. The songs we love most passionately are often tied to a memory. They stay with us because of some reason bigger than the song itself.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is an ode to music—and a ballad about a rag-tag community in a run-down suburb on the symbolically named Unity Street. Although the setting is never specified, creating the idea it could happen anywhere, it is located somewhere in England. This is a story about connections and love in all forms—romantic, platonic, familial, obligatory, even of vocation. Many will be familiar with Rachel's previous books, particularly The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Frank, the owner of the music shop, has dedicated his life to his store. He renovated the derelict space largely with his own hands. His initial inventory was created from his own extensive collection of vinyl records, inherited from his mother. Within this shop, he has created a gathering space for the community. His fellow shopkeeper neighbors, loyal customers, and strangers off the street feel comfortable here. Frank has a gift. When someone tells him what kind of music they want, Frank can find the music they need—and it's rarely an obvious choice. For example, a man wanders in, looking lost and confused. He claims to only love Chopin. After a few minutes Frank sets him up with Aretha Franklin's "Oh No Not My Baby." And, despite the man's initial protests, it turns out to be, as Frank hoped, the "song that would arrive like a little raft and carry this man safely home." Sometimes it takes a stranger to see us clearly.

As the story opens, it's 1988 and CDs are the new way to listen to music. The sales reps work hard to convince Frank he needs to get with the times, but he staunchly refuses. Ever steadfast and loyal in his friendships, he is committed to selling only vinyl records. Up and down the street, all the shopkeepers are worried about sales and the undesirable changes in the neighborhood. Frank spends time washing graffiti off his neighbors' walls and windows and rumors of robberies are shared. A large development company is making offers to all property owners, with plans to tear down the entire street.

In the midst of this stress and worry, a beautiful woman, Ilse, appears—a stranger, visiting from Germany. She is good at fixing things and serves as a catalyst of hope for everyone who meets her. Frank has never known anyone like Ilse and is drawn to her immediately. She hires him to teach her about music and so begins their business arrangement, built on a mutual passion.

Short vignettes within the main storyline allow us to peek into the lives of many well-drawn, complex characters. But Frank and Ilse's discussions are where The Music Shop becomes more than a simple story of relationships within a community. This novel also explores musical history in a fascinating and intensely personal manner. When Frank introduces Ilse to different songs and their composers, he explains the true stories behind the music—from classical to modern. Readers will learn more about the real lives of artists such as Vivaldi, Beethoven, the Sex Pistols, and more.

After reading about Frank's gift in the novel's description, I expected this story to have a touch of magical realism. Some readers may still find a hint of it—it's somewhat left to interpretation—but I think the magic is in Frank's willingness to listen. He loves music passionately and believes in its power to heal hearts and souls.

Despite being beautifully written and utterly charming, this novel is not perfect. A few elements of Frank and Ilse's story are somewhat unconvincing and a pause in the story line, where the characters are out of view, felt unnecessarily long. After being thoroughly invested, I felt slightly cheated to miss out on some of their major life events. Yet, just as even flaws in a loved one can be endearing, this unexpected plot shift only helped to cement this novel in my heart. The Music Shop won me over completely.

Reviewed by Sarah Tomp

This review is from the February 21, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Vinyl Records

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