The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
Rebel Voice has hit a fairly decent streak in off-the-wall entertaining books of late and long may it continue. The Music Shop is one more delightfully engaging novel with a unique story-line.
Frank is in his forties, single and the owner of a struggling music shop on Unity Street in an undisclosed English city. He is an only child, having been raised by his mother, Peg, in a bohemian fashion. Frank was twenty-five when she passed on, and Peg left him nothing but her extensive record collection. It’s this inheritance and his Peg-instilled love of music that provides the impetus for Frank’s shop, one that stubbornly sells only vinyl.
As it’s the eighties, Frank is something of an anomaly. CDs are the next big thing but Frank is insistent upon remaining loyal to the record. He’s a devotee of vinyl who feels that it’s the only way to truly enjoy music. It’s not just an item that makes music for Frank, it’s a ceremonial process. And so it is that he stocks everything from classical to punk as he strives to spread the dying gospel of the vinyl record.
But Frank has a strange gift that sets him apart from others. It’s not a talent that will make him incredibly rich, but it is one that makes him incredibly appreciated and loved by those who chance to know him. You see, Frank can look at a person and immediately know which record they need to listen to, even if it’s not what they themselves want. Customers who arrive at his rundown premises in search of Chopin, might leave having fallen in love with Aretha Franklin, as suggested by Frank.
As poor as business is, and despite pressure from a development company to sell, Frank and the other shop owners of Unity Street live a reasonably affable life. They have stability if not great security. That all changes for Frank on the day he first sets eyes on Ilse Brauchmann. The encounter also has a serious impact upon the beautiful German woman who promptly faints outside Frank’s shop. And so begins a tremulous love story that embraces everyone on Unity Street.
This novel has a great cast of characters. Among Frank’s neighbours are Maud the tattooist, Father Anthony the failed priest, a pair of undertaker twins, a Polish baker and Kit, Frank’s bumbling but lovable teenage assistant. It makes for constant entertainment.
As Ilse gradually becomes a fleeting constant in the placid life of Unity Street, speculation begins as to who she is, why she is there and why she never removes her leather gloves. She tells the residents that she has a finance and a job, but little else. She also eventually confides in an infatuated Frank that she knows nothing of music, and so employs him to give her lessons in the intricacies of that art-form. Ilse doesn’t want to learn how to play an instrument from Frank and he couldn’t teach her that anyway as he doesn’t know. Instead, she wishes to hear music as Frank does. She wants to feel the same enthusiasm and appreciation for music as the handsome and good-natured music shop owner. She also needs to spend more time with Frank as she has quickly fallen in love, unbeknownst to our hapless hero.
We, the readers, are taken on a music-laden odyssey as Frank explains the lives of the great composers and what to look for in their music. He carries Ilse and the reader through the various genres and artists, thus providing an education, as Frank also searches his own soul to see where Ilse might fit. Poor Frank is wary of giving himself completely to anyone as his mother, as well-meaning as she was, really messed him up emotionally. It’s all very complicated and charming.
The Music Shop is a dream of a book. It’s a romance that has music as its glue. The reader is regaled with the merits of any number of artists. The story is an informative journey into music in its entirety, but it’s also a tale of friendship and hope and never giving up. The Music Shop is certainly poignant, as well as being nostalgic for those of a certain vintage that can recall the nineteen-eighties.
If you were to take High Fidelity and introduce it to Charlaine Harris’ Midnight Crossing, then The Music Shop would be their smiling, singing love-child. It’s that kind of book. As Frank gets to know Ilse better, he finds that he has more and more questions about her. But disaster strikes. Ilse reveals her true identity and Frank’s business also runs into serious trouble. It will throw the reader into a speed wobble. But will you crash? Read it and find out, and be glad that you did.
The Music Shop is a complete read that will hook you right until the very last word. You will fall in love with Frank and Ilse and the residents of Unity Street as society crumbles around them. You may even come to a greater appreciation of the universal language that is music. Rebel Voice is off now to search for old vinyl in an attempt to reclaim a wasted youth and perhaps make a few quid in the process. Hopefully our quest here will end as beautifully as The Music Shop.
Sult scale rating: 9 out of 10. This story is witty, charming, insightful, educational and full of heart. In terms of entertainment, The Music Shop is an absolute, and as such is very highly recommended by Rebel Voice. Love your music? Then read this book.
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