The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
The Music Shop is a good fun read. For a moment I was worried that its music store setting might make it similar to Nick Hornby’s Hi Fidelity from 1995, but those fears quickly vanished. This music shop is owned by Frank, a tall ungainly man who has one special talent, the ability to read a person and recommend to them just the right piece of music for how they are feeling. Even if they like only one type of music, Frank will find something else that is perfect. Frank has one other quality (or possibly weakness), he is stubborn. It is 1988, the CD has arrived and is taking over. But Frank will only sell vinyl and nothing will persuade him to stock anything else. Frank’s shop is run down, home made and located on a city-backstreet, where it sits amid a small community of other “less successful” stores. A baker, a florist, tattooist, undertaker and seller of religious souvenirs. None of them are really thriving, but they have formed themselves into a little support community for each other. Friends and allies.
Then one day a strange woman arrives and disrupts the even tempo. She faints on the street outside Frank’s shop. No-one knows who she is, but Frank forms a very real attraction to the woman, who turns out to be called Ilse Bruchman. Problem is, Frank has been on his own for too long. He has not only forgotten how to woo a woman, but also how good it would be to have one around. He has a history of relationship failures and also a beautifully imagined upbringing with his single mother who taught him the stories behind the music he loves.
What follows is the slow development of a relationship, beginning when Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. It is not a classic love story, but what it all too painfully shows is how such relationships can be spoilt if people are not open and honest about their own feelings and emotions. Sometimes I wanted to slap Frank and tell him to wake up to the wonderful woman in front of his eyes.
I really enjoyed The Music Shop. It feels like a modern-day fairytale and has a lovely quality in the way it catches the quirks of relationships that sometime dysfunctional people have. It also reminds us, if we need it, just how important it is to talk to our friends and partners. It ends with a glow and that is always good.
REVIEWER: Marcus Hobson
TITLE: The Music Shop
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House