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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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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 2018, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
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Davida Chazan

Hallelujah for Vinyl
Rachel Joyce's newest novel begins with this simple line, "There once was a music shop." No, this isn't a fairy tale; instead, what follows is a complex journey of two people on the backdrop of a soundtrack that’s equally as eclectic as they are. It’s the 1980s and Frank believes that music can heal people, and he has a knack of begin able to find just the right piece for whatever that person needs. However, Frank also believes in vinyl and refuses to sell anything but them in his shop, despite the music industry's growing adoration of CDs. However, with his accident-prone helper Kit, and a slew of oddball neighbors with them on Unity Street, it looks like this fading neighborhood is the next up for developers and their dreams of gentrification. Into all this walks Ilse, who immediately faints and thereby changes Frank's life as well as that of everyone else.

If you've ever read any Joyce (Harold Fry and Queenie Hennessey), you'll already know that despite the fact that she uses one of the oldest and mundane basic plots on earth (boy meets girl, etc.), her creative genius lies in her ability to grab her readers with the most quirky and loveable characters we could ever imagine. Although Joyce's second novel, Perfect, strayed from this formula, this newest work does not, and I'm not complaining even one tiny bit. In fact, what Joyce achieved with both Harold and Queenie in two separate novels, she's surpassed with Frank and Ilse in this one book.

One can easily compare and contrast these two sets of relationships. Although Ilse, unlike Queenie, isn't on her deathbed, she does have a medical problem but thankfully, it isn't fatal. Unlike Harold, Frank doesn't walk the length of Britain to see Ilse. However, Frank does have a type of journey, which an internal one. At the same time, Frank attempts to help others onto better paths through his deep insights into what music will take them there. Remember too that Harold and Queenie both told their stories of their relationship in retrospect. In this book, Joyce tells Frank and Ilse's story as it happens, beginning their meeting in the late 80s and ending in 2008, with a 20-year gap in the narrative.

Furthermore, in both Harold and Queenie, the primary focus was on those two protagonists, with all the minor characters almost exclusively in the background (practically as footnotes). Ilse and Frank have quite a number of predominant supporting characters (along with a mostly unseen real estate development company) playing significant roles in both helping and impeding their relationship. In fact, one of these characters is practically a third protagonist, but she only appears in a few chapters of her own and as small reminders elsewhere, yet her impact on Frank, and through this also on Ilse, is enormous (sorry, no spoilers).

Aside from this, what all three of these books (as well as her other novel and her short stories) have in common is how Joyce succeeds with such grace and deceptive simplicity of prose to make us fall in love with such obviously flawed, tantalizingly unusual, yet amazingly ordinary people. Yes, I know this sounds like an oxymoron dream fest, but that's Joyce - she knows how to combine all these things to make characters that (excuse the cliché) practically jump off the page at her readers. Joyce also knows how to build a plot around these characters where they can work through various obstacles, which adds to these characters' development.

Here too, Joyce likes parallels, for example, Frank's insistence on only selling music on vinyl (that at the time many thought would eventually become obsolete) echoes the neighborhood "Unity Street" where he has his shop, where a property developer is trying to buy out all the residents. It was as if Joyce was trying to say that modernity may influence many, but some steadfast people will always survive with their principles intact.

As you can see, I thoroughly adored this novel, and of course, I will highly recommend it. Mind you, if you don't have a huge batch of tissues when you get to the last handful of pages, you're going to make a mess of your sleeves - BIG TIME! As I've said before "Hello, my name is Davida, and I'm a Rachel Joyce addict," and this book only increased this wonderfully delightful habit for me - so I can't give it less than a full five out of five stars!
(This review originally appeared on my website "The Chocolate Lady's Book Review Blog.")
Lorraine F Monakey

A great story
My high school English teacher daughter recommended this book. I loved it and couldn’t put it down. An interesting twist to suggest specific music to help people’s maladies. A feel good read.
Deby

If you love...
If you enjoy music, cannot resist a magically love story, believe that life is full of kismets and serendipities, and good can be found in this world of ours, read THE MUSIC SHOP!!!!!! This life of mine took on a whole new positive meaning when I finished this jewel...I bet yours will too??
Peggy T

Better and better
In my case, Rachel Joyce has been an author whose work has grown on me. I read Harold Fry for a book club and did not really like it. Then I read Queenie Hennessy and I did that like that version of the same story. This book was a great pleasure for me and I loved the idea of the music on Spotify. I listened to it once before reading the book and once afterward. Maybe I skipped Sid Vicious but otherwise, great songs. Maybe the ending was not entirely realistic, but hey, fiction can be a bit unlikely. It was a very feel-good book and I liked it.
Nick

Missed opportunity
A good idea (the shop, Frank, the mysterious girl) that does not deliver. e.g. the mysterious details about Ilse are irrelevant; what's the point of 20 years separation? And how did the author get away with describing a flash mob that has been on YouTube since November 2010 when Handel's Hallelujah was actually performed in a shopping mall in Ontario, Canada?
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