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The Music Shop


The Music Shop

In 1988, on a run-down English street stands a vinyl-only music shop. Its proprietor, Frank, has a knack for matching customers with albums, finding the music that will speak to them, even heal them. But Frank’s own hurts and sorrows are tangled up in his love of music and, more deeply, related to his mother, who taught him to understand its power. Surrounded by a motley group of neighborhood residents and shopkeepers, Frank ekes out a living selling records and records only. When a mysterious and lovely woman faints in front of the shop, Frank’s life is forever changed. Frank, his store, and the lady who passes out are at the center of Rachel Joyce’s latest novel, THE MUSIC SHOP. 

While Maud, who runs the tattoo shop just down from Frank’s establishment, is in love with him, Frank immediately falls in love with the fainting woman whose name is Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse’s identity and story are slowly revealed both to readers and to Frank and the other people of Unity Street. Her attachment to music rivals Frank’s, but it’s only through the music lessons she undertakes with him that she rediscovers the joy it brings her. Their time together forces each to confront their past, explore their feelings about music and identity, and imagine their future.

"Romantic without being sappy, realistic without being overly earnest, fun without being silly, THE MUSIC SHOP hits all the right notes."

When a corporation takes interest in redeveloping Unity Street, Frank and his friends must decide where their values and loyalties lie. Even as he resists what seems like an inevitable wave of gentrification, a destructive loss threatens his stability altogether, and his future with Ilse looks impossible.

The story of Frank and Ilse’s relationship is contrasted with flashbacks to Frank’s life with his mother. Peg was a force to be reckoned with --- a bold and liberated single mother who refused to allow her young son to call her anything but her first name. Peg often prioritized her lovers over Frank, but she also instilled in him a passion for music and awareness of the lives of the musicians who created her favorites. It was after feeling at loose ends upon her death that Frank opened his shop while in his mid-20s. Fourteen years later, Ilse, in a green coat and with gloved hands, first looks Frank in the eye.

The themes of community, self-worth and love are well treated here. The music that inspires the characters --- from Beethoven and Bach, to Aretha and Billie; from classical and swing, to rock and punk --- is lovingly described, and readers can even find a companion playlist on Spotify.

Joyce plays with some tried-and-true tropes here, and there are only a few surprises in its pages. However, her writing is sure, and her characters are delightful and interesting. While not wholly original, the novel is successful and enjoyable to read. Frank is a compelling protagonist --- big-hearted, intuitive, a bit goofy, and unable to see his own worth or importance. Ilse and Peg balance out the poles of Frank’s life in some complex and intriguing ways. Romantic without being sappy, realistic without being overly earnest, fun without being silly, THE MUSIC SHOP hits all the right notes.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 12, 2018

The Music Shop
by Rachel Joyce

  • Publication Date: November 6, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0812986563
  • ISBN-13: 9780812986563