I feel I have to start by saying I loved this book. In fact, I more than loved it — I’m afraid my feeble attempt to review it and string a few helpful sentences together about why I loved it won’t do it justice. So let me just say: even if you can’t bear to read to the end of this review, do read this fabulous novel by Rachel Joyce because it’ll bring you joy.
I read a huge chunk of this novel on an 8 hour flight from the USA. I read it greedily, forsaking the opportunity to watch the glut of available films, choosing instead to immerse myself in the world of Frank and Ilse and the nurturing community of the music shop on Unity street.
The year is 1988. CD’s have emerged as the latest big thing and Frank owns a music shop packed full of vinyl records full of records of every genre. From classical to Jazz, from punk to pop and everything else in between — but no CD’s, despite the pressure from a world where CD’s are the new big thing. Frank also has a gift for choosing just the right music for his customers — music they couldn’t have imagined they needed but which heals or helps or soothes.
“Frank could not play music, he could not read a score, he had no practical knowledge whatsoever, but when he sat in front of a customer and truly listened, he heard a kind of song”
Customers come into Frank’s shop thinking they need one thing and leaving with something entirely different yet it somehow is always and absolutely the right thing. Frank persuades a heart broken man who thinks he needs Chopin that Aretha Franklin is what he needs. This is Franks life until Ilse Brachmann, the mysterious German girl with her pea green coat and eyes as black as the vinyl Frank adores, walks right into it. She asks Frank to teach her about music. Despite Franks ability to fix others relationships, he’s less successful or willing to do so when it comes to his own. If Frank is going to get to know Ilse better then he needs to make himself vulnerable.
I adore Rachel Joyce’s writing. Previous novels by Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) has demonstrated that she is acutely observant of people as she brings them to life on the page. The Music Shop shows she also has an ability to write about music in such a way that the pages almost sing with the joy of it. Surely this ability can surely only come from a true music lover?
“Jazz was about the spaces between notes. It was about what happened when you listened to the thing inside you. the gaps and the cracks. Because that was where life really happened; when you were brave enough to free fall”
The love story that Rachel Joyce creates between Frank and Ilse, and the connection between them through music, is so touching. Their discovery of each other and realization that they both have secrets has a rhythm that rises and falls, culminating in a rousing crescendo, that she manages beautifully in her writing. I don’t want to give away the ending, but suffice to say it’s fabulous (and tears may be shed).
“He watched her climb into the back seat and wave as the cab moved on. Being with her was at the same as staring into the sun; he saw nothing and yet when he looked away, there she was, a raucous while light imprinted at the heart of everything. Yes she was going to marry someone else but he had never felt so happy”
Rachel has a skill for understanding the best of human nature. Readers are given the pleasure of discovering this through the characters and through the heart warming connections that are between them. There are many great characters — apart from Frank and Ilse, Frank’s “able” assistant named Kit is a joy. He’s without guile and contributes so much to the music shop, the community, and ultimately to the relationship between Frank and Ilse.
I felt I learned much about music from this novel. I found myself noting down songs that I needed to dig out and listen to. During my flight, I was searched through the entertainment system to find some suitable Beethoven as recommended by Frank.
The Music Shop will make your heart sing. This book is out now. Buy it, put in on your Christmas list, get someone else to buy it for you — but whatever you do, read it.
NOTE: This book was sent to me for the purpose of review but all opinions are entirely my own and without bias.
About The Author
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Perfect. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was short-listed for the Commonwealth Book Prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into thirty-six languages. Joyce was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards New Writer of the Year in 2012. She is also the author of the digital short story A Faraway Smell of Lemon and is the award-winning writer of more than thirty original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4. Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire. | Buy The Music Shop