THE MUSIC SHOP by Rachel Joyce

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From the publisher:

“An unforgettable story of music, loss and hope. Fans of High Fidelity, meet your next quirky love story.”—People


It is 1988. On a dead-end street in a run-down suburb there is a music shop that stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. Like a beacon, the shop attracts the lonely, the sleepless, and the adrift;

Frank, the shop’s owner, has a way of connecting his customers with just the piece of music they need. Then, one day, into his shop comes a beautiful young woman, Ilse Brauchmann, who asks Frank to teach her about music. Terrified of real closeness, Frank feels compelled to turn and run, yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems, and Frank has old wounds that threaten to reopen, as well as a past it seems he will never leave behind.

Can a man who is so in tune with other people’s needs be so incapable of connecting with the one person who might save him? The journey that these two quirky, wonderful characters make in order to overcome their emotional baggage speaks to the healing power of music—and love—in this poignant, ultimately joyful work of fiction.

Every year the American Library Association encourages a summer reading program. This year’s theme is “Libraries Rock!” so I leaned in with some music programs including a book discussion featuring The Music Shop.

Rachel Joyce had a couple of hits on her hands with the Harold Fry books (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy,) but I couldn’t get into the first one and didn’t bother with the second. So I had some trepidation about choosing this book. But my BFF Judy loved it and I trust her so I selected it for the summer reading book discussion. Ultimately, I am very happy that I did.

It is, as the publisher explains, both a love story and a journey through music, and it is the journey that kept me turning pages. I did find it slow going through a good chunk of the book, and to define these characters as quirky is to practically redefine the word.

The main character, Frank, is obsessed with music and vinyl records, in particular. The book is set mostly in the 1980’s when CDs were first becoming popular. Frank refuses to carry anything other than vinyl, which becomes a problem for distributors after a while. He also has his own unique filing system – he groups albums together by how he thinks they go together. He has an innate sense of music and can see the music that people need. For instance, a man comes in asking for Chopin, but Frank knows he needs Aretha Franklin’s “Oh No Not My Baby”.

We learn about Frank’s most unusual childhood, which explains a lot of his passion. Kit works for Frank and he is a bumbling, not very bright, but sincere young man. The folks who own the neighboring shops are also eccentric, to the point where there doesn’t seem to be a single character who seems “normal”, whatever that is, or even believable. A little believability would have been a nice touch here or there.

When Ilse comes into their lives, she makes quite an entrance – she faints dead away. Eventually her music lessons with Frank leads to them falling in love but neither will admit it. Ilse is scared due to her backstory, and Frank has serious trust and commitment issues due to his own life experiences.

But what brings them together is the music, and the music is what makes this book worth reading. I learned a lot, and I was delighted to find the author created a playlist to go along with the book. You can find it on Spotify (free accounts available) or on YouTube. Penguin UK has a wonderful page set up with some quotes from the book and the music discussed:

You can get a real feel for the book on that page and see what I’m babbling about. This is a wonderful book to discuss, and ultimately an unusual and lovely read.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE MUSIC SHOP by Rachel Joyce. Random House (January 2, 2018).  ISBN 978-0812996685.  320p.


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