About the Book
1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. 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 what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …
Format: Hardcover (336 pages) Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: 13th July 2017 Genre: Fiction
Find The Music Shop on Goodreads
The Music Shop has been on my bookshelf ever since I heard Rachel Joyce talk about the book at Henley Literary Festival in 2017. You can read my review of the event here. Now I’ve finally read it, I’m kicking myself that it took me so long.
Set mainly in 1988, the book conjures up a vivid picture of that time – lava lamps, Ritz crackers, high street shops such and Dolcis and Tammy, using the Yellow Pages to find a tradesman. I know I’m showing my age now but I can remember browsing in record shops for the latest vinyl releases. This passage especially, as Frank takes delivery of new stock, evoked such memories.
“Boxes of vinyl began to arrive the next morning. Rare original pressings, bootleg copies, white-label promotional labels, as well as entire box-set collections. Seven- and 12-inch singles in the shape of hearts, birds and hats; limited-edition releases on coloured discs in blue, red, orange, yellow, white and even multicoloured splatter. Soundtrack records, popular favourites. World music, second-hand classics, demos. Rare mono recordings, limited-edition audiophile pressings… Plain sleeves, picture sleeves. Albums with posters, fold-out flaps and signed covers.”
In the residents of Unity Street, Rachel Joyce has created a fabulous community of diverse individuals who nevertheless feel a growing sense of togetherness, especially when outside forces threaten to bring unwanted change. “Here they were, living together on Unity Street, trying to make a difference in the world, knowing they couldn’t, but still doing it anyway.”
The book has a wonderful cast of secondary characters such as Maud, the owner of a tattoo parlour, Father Anthony, the owner of a religious gift shop, “Saturday” Kit who helps out in Frank’s shop, Mrs Roussos and her chihuahua…oh, and not forgetting the matchmaking waitress of The Singing Teapot.
I loved the little stories about the customers whom Frank helps with music choices, such as the man who ‘only listens to Chopin’. Frank’s uncanny ability to prescribe the music others need for their current predicament leads to some unexpected choices. My favourites were his selection of the perfect lullaby for a sleepless child and an album to rekindle a marriage that has lost his spark. In fact, I could have read a whole book of such stories.
Interspersed with events in Unity Street are Frank’s memories of his childhood growing up with his mother, Peg. Sadly for Frank, Peg lacked the conventional instincts of motherhood – “show Peg a boundary, she crashed straight through it” – but she was at least responsible for inspiring his passion for music through her wonderful stories about composers and musicians. As the reader will discover, she’s also the reason Frank cannot bear to listen to a particular piece of music. Unfortunately, Peg’s actions will come to influence Frank’s relationships with others as he grows up. “Frank was so busy loving other people he had no room to accommodate the fact that someone might turn round one day and love him back.”
Will meeting Ilse Brauchmann change things for Frank? Obviously, I’m not going to tell you but all I will say is, that if you’ve read any of Rachel Joyce’s previous books, you’ll know she has a knack for taking readers on an emotional journey. The Music Shop is no exception. I was advised by a fellow blogger who had read the book to have tissues ready at the end; they were right.
The Music Shop is just the sort of warm, uplifting story perfect for the times we’re living through. As Kit says at one point, “I can’t imagine a world without Frank”. Hallelujah to that.
In three words: Charming, funny, uplifting
Try something similar (in the spirit of Frank): In My Life: A Music Memoir by Alan Johnson
About the Author
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her work has been translated into thirty-six languages.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ in 2014.
Rachel has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl. She lives with her family in Gloucestershire. (Photo credit: Facebook author page)