The Music Shop
“An unforgettable story of music, loss and hope. Fans of High Fidelity, meet your next quirky love story.”—People
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE TIMES (UK) AND THE WASHINGTON POST
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.
Praise for The Music Shop
“Captures the sheer, transformative joy of romance.”—The Washington Post
“Love, friendship, and especially the healing powers of music all rise together into a triumphant crescendo. . . . This lovely novel is as satisfying and enlightening as the music that suffuses its every page.”—The Boston Globe
“Magnificent . . . If you love words, if you love music, if you love love, this [novel] will be without question one of the year’s best.”—BookPage (Top Pick in Fiction)
“Joyce has a knack for quickly sketching characters in a way that makes them stick. [The Music Shop] will surprise you.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Rachel Joyce has established a reputation for novels that celebrate the dignity and courage of ordinary people and the resilience of the human spirit. . . . But what really elevates The Music Shop is Joyce’s detailed knowledge of—and passion for—music.”—The Guardian
Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) has a winner in this deceptively simple love story about Frank, owner of a London hole-in-the-wall music store selling vinyl records in 1988. Adamant about not selling cassette tapes or CDs, Frank is a loner raised by an eccentric but loving mother who taught him to cherish all kinds of music. His extraordinary gift is knowing the precise song people need to hear at a particular time in their lives, and his musical selections have miraculous results. Frank's small circle of friends own shops on this out-of-the-way street: Maud, who secretly pines for Frank, has a tattoo parlor; ex-priest Father Anthony sells religious artifacts; the twin Williams brothers run a family funeral business. Frank's life is upturned when a mysterious stranger, Ilse Brauchmann, appears outside his store and promptly faints. The magical trajectory of Frank and Ilse's relationship is nicely balanced against the thread about a threatening real estate company that wants to destroy Frank's tiny store. Joyce's odes to music from Aretha Franklin and J.S. Bach to Puccini and the Sex Pistols and the notion that the perfect song can transform one's life make this novel a triumph.
The healing power of music
Down-on-his-luck protagonist Frank owns an eclectic music shop peddling vinyl records in a decaying section of a London suburb in 1988. He struggles to make ends meet for himself and his tight-knit community of downtrodden Unity Street shop owners: accident-prone record store assistant Kit, fierce tattoo artist Maud, and religious gift shop proprietor Father Anthony, a former priest. Through his insistence on selling only vinyl, Frank fights a losing battle at a critical time in music history when CDs are poised to make all previous audio formats obsolete. Bye, bye vinyl, 8 tracks, and cassettes.
Fate drops mysterious German violinist Ilse Brauchmann at Frank’s record shop doorstep, and the novel revolves around their relationship crescendo. Frank is a 40-year-old loser at love thanks to his narcissistic single mother Peg, who shares her passion for music instead of any other form of real love. She even insists her son address her by her first name instead of Mom. Frank’s depressing childhood with Peg is replayed in telling flashback scenes where he receives his music lessons listening to her blather on about her favorites. Frank’s unconventional and affectionless youth explains why he remains alone as a 40-year-old man in 1988, tending the needs of others instead of facing his own problems. Frank shares his special gift for choosing the right tunes for his record shop patrons, selections that soothe their souls and lift their spirits.
Meanwhile, Ilse has been forced to give up her career as a professional violinist due to severe arthritis in her hands, a disfigurement she tries to hide with gloves. Breaking off an engagement, she flees to England with no money or idea what to do with her life. These damaged lovers, Frank and Ilse, connect on a musical level from the first note. Ilse asks and Frank agrees to provide weekly music lessons, his version of what special songs mean to him and the emotions the composers strived to convey. This enthusiasm for his favorite topic reveals Frank’s true character and endears him to Ilse, but Frank feels unworthy, afraid of love, and blows his chance at happiness. Thanks, Mom, oops I mean Peg!
Everything goes up in smoke, and I do mean everything. Frank and Ilse go separate ways for many years. The other Unity Street shopkeepers are forced to close and move on with their lives. 21 years later the power of music draws Ilse back to London in search of Frank and the bond they shared. With some help from the Unity Street gang—Kit, Maud, and Father Anthony—Frank is found and saved from himself with an epic modern-day intervention. I loved this part of the story, so much fun!
I adored this story’s resolution and the antics of all the Island-of-Misfit characters who were developed well enough to make you really care about what happened to them (even Maud). The healing power of music is a major theme explored throughout this narrative and everyone’s intertwined stories. Frank’s history lessons about songs from various genres—classical, jazz, rock, soul, funk, opera—are personal, delightful, and made me want to play the songs while reading to better grasp the emotions and sensations he so vividly describes to Ilse. I was so thrilled to find a playlist of all the major songs discussed in the story at the end of the book. Rachel Joyce has already created a Spotify Playlist, and I’ve created The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce Playlist on Apple Music to revisit these brilliant songs and share them with others.
If you are a music enthusiast who enjoys literary fiction and love stories without the mush, I highly recommend you read this book. The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce may boil down to just another love song, yet the story sings with an uplifting sound all its own.
A love story to Music and the people who need it.
From a child hearing Bach with his mother, to lovers, friends and community, these stories weave us together. Laugh cry and be healed. Repeat.
A wonderful story and such great characters! I loved it!