The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Four elements in The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce stood out (and will leave me feeling fondly toward the story) –

01. It’s a book version of The Castle – local shop owners on Unity Street (somewhere in London) battle a property developer, who wants to demolish the existing buildings and replace them with apartments. Furthermore, Frank, who owns the music shop, only stocks vinyl. As CDs begin to take over the music market, Frank holds out.

“CDs aren’t music. They’re toys.”

02. The playlist. Frank doesn’t organise the records in his store alphabetically or by genre. Instead, he organises them by the ‘feel’. It’s why The Troggs sit alongside Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and the Sex Pistols are with Purcell.

God Save the Queen is one massive self-destruct button. John Lydon can’t sing, he can’t read music, and that’s the whole point. The song isn’t just anti-monarchy, it’s anti-everything, including himself. But we need him. When the whole country’s waving paper flags and eating finger sandwiches, you need someone to moon their arse. You see?” Ilse nodded. Slowly. Next he pulled out Dido’s Lament, written by Purcell for his opera Dido and Aeneas. “OK, so that was an explosion. This is an implosion… This is what it sounds like when a heart breaks.”

03. A complex mother-son relationship. Frank reflects on his relationship with his charismatic mother, Peg – Joyce’s careful and considered writing comes to the fore as Frank’s memories, although ‘happy’, are tinged with a longing and melancholy, the source of which is revealed by the end of the book.

…being a regular mother was anathema to Peg but when it came to vinyl, she displayed a care that verged on sacred. And she could talk about music for hours.

04. The importance of listening – to silences as well as words. Although not named, Frank is a music therapist – he finds songs that speak to people.

Over time, Peg played all the silences she loved. The more Frank listened, the more he understood. Silence could be exciting, it could be scary, it could be like flying, or even a really good joke. Years later, he would hear that final pause in ‘A Day in the Life’ by The Beatles – the one that gave just enough time to breathe before the last chord fell like a piece of furniture from the sky – and he would dance with joy at the sheer audacity of it… Silence was where the magic happened.

There’s more to The Music Shop – essentially it’s a love story, between Frank and the mysterious Ilse Brauchmann – but for anyone who has experienced the power of a song (that defines a moment; that seems to be written just for them; that makes their heart swell), and for anyone who still owns vinyl (me), file this novel under ‘heart warming’. It’s not without faults (for example, it was a stretch to think that everyone on Unity Street cared so much about Ilse), but they pale against the significance of listening, silences, music, and fighting for what you cherish.

There’s no guarantee that just because you are ready to go back and claim something, it will be there.

3.5/5 Charming.

I received my copy of The Music Shop from the publisher, Random House UK, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

After the God Save the Queen quote, it has to be finger sandwiches.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (June 24): Belfast 17°-25° and Melbourne 8°-17°.

16 responses

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  2. Charming is how I would describe one of her earlier books – the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It was fine (a little unbelievable in parts) but I never felt I wanted to read the follow up

    • In the story, Frank spends a bit of time saying why vinyl is better than CDs – the importance of the A side and B side, the order of the songs etc etc. I still say the same things to my kids but even worse now with Spotify where they just cherry-pick individual songs and rarely, if ever, listen to a whole album.

  3. Agreed, agreed, agreed, agreed, agreed! I adored this book. I’m hooked on Joyce. I’ve read everything she’s published and I hope I’ll read everything she comes out with in the future. She’s so subtle and yet so straight forward, it just becomes magic. (And this book made me cry SO hard!)

  4. I’ve never understood the vinyl thing. I’ve probably never owned speakers good enough to notice the difference. I had a mate once who was a purist, he had an import record shop (in Ballarat) but refused to stock Abba, because they didn’t sit well alongside King Crimson. Went broke of course. And doesn’t help that my speakers all suffer from regular doses of ‘God Save the Queen’. Anarchy in the UK rocks out as I type.

    • Without sounding tiresome, it’s about the narrative with vinyl – the order of the songs, the break between the A side and the B side, the crackle of the needle to indicate the story is about to start… maybe I read too much into it!

      And BTW, I’m an ABBA purist 😀

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