“The Music Shop” by Rachel Joyce; Random House; January 2018; 320 pp; $27.00
By Ann Jonas
For The Visitor
When bestselling author Rachel Joyce’s “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” was published in 2012, the novel was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Her main character was quirky but lovable, to some extent leading the way for other similar novels, including Fredrik Backman’s “A Man Called Ove” and Elizabeth Berg’s “The Story of Arthur Truluv.”
Joyce’s new novel “The Music Shop” is full of quirky characters, with music — specifically vinyl records — as a main theme.
“The Music Shop” is set in 1988, when vinyl records are no longer the fashion; CDs seem to be the way of the future. Frank, a kind, rumpled man, owns a small music shop on Unity Street in a London suburb and it is chock-full of vinyl records; he refuses to stock CDs in his store: “CDs aren’t music. They’re toys.”
Frank manages to stay in business by helping his customers find just the right music for them: “If you told Frank the kind of thing you wanted, or simply how you felt that day, he had the right track in minutes. It was a knack he had. A gift. He knew what people needed even if they didn’t know it themselves.”
Frank and his circle of friends — Kit, his young, clumsy employee; Anthony, a former priest who owns a religious gift shop; Maud, the somewhat crude owner of a tattoo parlor; and the Williams brothers, who own a funeral home — are all trying to stay viable.
Their businesses are on a run-down, dead-end street and a developer has been hounding them to sell their properties for redevelopment.
A beautiful German woman, Ilse Brauchmann, appears in Frank’s shop one day and Frank is smitten, though he tries hard to deny his feelings, in part because Ilse has stated that she is engaged to be married. Ilse is curious about the music store and asks Frank to teach her all about the music he sells in his shop. Frank has already shared with her his love of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and she is eager to hear more.
As the story progresses it seems there are some mysteries behind Ilse’s persona. And Frank is battling his own demons, relating to his childhood. Interspersed between several of the book’s chapters are flashbacks to Frank’s youth and his upbringing by his mother, who gave him a vast knowledge about classical music and musicians. These italicized sections add an interesting way to explain Frank’s musical acumen and his reluctance to get close to Ilse.
“The Music Shop” is a light and uplifting tale with an interesting storyline. But what makes it such a compelling read is all its association with music. It is an offbeat love story, but more, it is a salute to music. The power of music — especially the music played on a vinyl record — and everything that music gives us, is charmingly illustrated throughout.
“The Music Shop” is available in bookstores everywhere, including the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University Bookstores.
Ann Jonas is the general book buyer for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.