‘The Music Shop’ by Rachel Joyce – Gonna Take A Sentimental Journey

 

‘The Music Shop’ by Rachel Joyce   (2017) – 306 pages

I miss record shops and book shops.  These stores always seemed like oases in the middle of the commercial desert where you could find something you really liked.

The novel ‘The Music Shop’ takes place in a seedy neighborhood of small shops and bars on Unity Street in London in the year 1988.  The record store owner Frank, “a gentle bear of a man”, stubbornly insists on selling only vinyl even though CDs are the up and coming thing.

“Music is about silence… the silence at the beginning of a piece of music is always different from the silence at the end because if you listen, the world changes. It’s like falling in love. Only no one gets hurt.”

Frank has a knack for picking out music for individual customers just by listening to them talk for a few minutes.  It is Frank’s love of the music that makes him special. One of the bonuses of reading ‘The Music Shop’ is all of its insightful references to various artists and pieces which range from classical composers to punk rock bands.

Frank has a motley crew of misfit friends who live in the neighborhood including his clumsy assistant Kit, the tattoo artist Maud who has a shop next door, the failed priest Father Anthony who runs a religious artifacts shop, and the two undertaker Williams brothers who run a funeral home together and who often hold hands.  These friends of Frank perform in the story like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion do in the Wizard of Oz as a friendly reassuring backdrop for Frank.

Frank has been emotionally scarred by his eccentric childhood, and he keeps to himself until this woman named Ilse Brauchmann shows up at his shop one day, and the sparks fly.  ‘The Music Shop’ is above all a rom.com.

But I must sound a dissonant note. Rachel Joyce writes crowd pleasers, and in ‘The Music Shop’ she pulls out all the stops.  Don’t expect a great deal of enlightening but confusing depth from ‘The Music Shop’ because that is not Joyce’s thing.  I, like many, many others, was totally bowled over by ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ and Harold’s long walk to save Queenie’s life.  This time out in ‘The Music Shop’, I felt every character and every scene was just a little too calculated and premeditated to induce strong emotions in us readers.  Joyce lays the sentimentality on awfully thick here.  I felt I was being manipulated, and I fought that feeling during the whole time I was reading the novel.  Ultimately I did shed a few tears during the climax of the novel, but I resented crying them.

But you really should read Rachel Joyce because she is really good at this sentimentality thing except for the overload.

 

Grade:   B+

 

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Tony, there is a real music shop not far from me in Park Rd Cheltenham. It’s called Vinyl Solution – and although I happily made the transition to CDs (and am now struggling with the transition to the iPod) – I grew up with 45s and LPs and I agree with you about the difference with records. My father used to tell a wonderful story about when he was a young man living in digs in London, and how his Beethoven symphonies always sounded best from the bottom of the stairs. So at the end of every record he would have to sprint back upstairs to his room to flip over his 78s for the next part, and then back down again!

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    • Hi Lisa,
      That’s a cool story about your father. We’ve had CDs for about 30 years and streaming for about 10 years but I don’t hear the music getting any better 🙂 if anything worse. When I was a boy the main way we got music was buying old 45’s at a discount from a restaurant who took them off their jukebox when they were out of date. I’ve always been an avid pop and rock music fan, and today people actually give me money to select songs on the jukebox. Somehow I remember the good songs better than most.

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      • I feel sorry for people who only get to hear modern music. If what is inflicted on me in hairdressers, waiting rooms and shops, in indicative, it’s a sad thing indeed.

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  2. Maybe I’ll try “The Unlikely Pilgrimage.” I read another ambivalent review of this that made me wonder if I’d like it. One review doesn’t persaude me; two make me wary.

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    • Hi Kat,
      It probably was for me a case of Rachel Joyce overload more than anything else as this was the fourth one in about five years. I’m on to her modus operandi. 🙂

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  3. Oh, I miss record shops and multiple indie bookstores – really takes me back to my younger years, and times when the high streets were not so homogenized.

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    • Hi kaggsy,
      I guess with streaming, we will all have to get used to not actual physical possessions. I especially loved used book or music stores because you never knew what you might find and you didn’t have to pay full price. 🙂

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  4. When this book was recommended to me, I went immediately to your blog to see what you said. I love that you noted she pulled out all the stops in this book about music. Good one. But best was that you resented your tears. On the question of the best way to listen to music: in my work life I occasionally introduced classical music events to college students. My standard spiel was that we were fortunate to be able to hear music anytime, anywhere, but there is nothing like listening to people make music in person.

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    • Hi Charlotte,
      I was born a farm boy who never was properly introduced to classical music and never learned to make music of any sort. I probably could have used a good teacher or friend to introduce me to classical music.
      However I’ve always enjoyed listening to popular music and my knowledge of it is almost encyclopedic. I suppose my tastes run more along the Rachel Joyce lines rather than Beethoven, etc.
      And thank you for the kind words.

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