Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop
by Rachel Joyce
Read by Steven Hartly
Published January 2018 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
I'm struggling these days writing reviews, explaining what I liked (or didn't) about a book in a way that doesn't sound exactly the same as the last review I wrote. Since I'm prone to talk about the publisher's summary in my reviews, this time I'm going to let that be my guide for the whole review. 

Sentence one: it's important to know that the book is set in 1988 because it's at that time the CDs took over the music world. Frank, though, refuses to sell anything other than vinyl. He was raised on vinyl. It's the way his mother showed him love, teaching him everything he knew about music, and life, by having him listen to her extensive vinyl collection. It was the only thing his mother left him, other than this piece of advice: "If you learn one thing from me, make it this - love is not nice. Stay away from it, Frank." And so Frank has stayed away from love. 

Sentence two: On that dead-end street in that run-down suburb there remain a few shops whose owners have become their own kind of family, led by Frank, who has never had any other family. This family is getting smaller. A big developer is trying to buy up the block and the local council is doing everything they can to help them. In the same way that you're almost certain that Frank and Ilse will wind up together, you're convinced that Goliath is going to win this time.

Sentence three: Frank is a listener. That's his secret for knowing which piece of music is just what a person needs, like The Troggs' Wild Thing, for a fussy baby and Aretha Franklin's Oh No Not My Baby for a man who's been jilted. It's also the reason people are drawn to him.

Sentence four: Ilse didn't walk into Frank's shop. She fainted in front of it then left almost as soon as she recovered, leaving behind a handbag and mystery. When she returns for the handbag, Frank realizes that he can't "hear" what music Ilse needs; without that, he has no idea how to talk to her. He is hopelessly drawn to her when she asks him to teach her about music. We are lucky enough to be in on the lessons.  

I'm a huge fan of Joyce's; she's an "auto-read" author for me. Her characters are always so real - flawed, quirky, hurt, humane, human. There is something to be learned in every book (here, of course, it's about music) but Joyce always teaches us with a light touch, giving readers exactly what they need to know to be drawn into the story. I love music, the way it can, as Frank knows, affect your mood, make you want to move, draw you into a story told through musical notes and lyrics. I loved learning the stories behind the music almost as much as I loved the relationship between Frank and Ilse. The ending here is a bit drawn out and then a bit improbable, but not enough to ruin a book that I very much enjoyed reading. 

As soon as I finished the book, I went to Spotify to see if I could put together a playlist of the songs in this book - turns out there were already three or four out there. I highly recommend that you have one of them playing if you chose to read this book in print. 


  1. Thanks for an intriguing review.

  2. I found this book to be enjoyable. A little unbelievable at times but enjoyable. I often see books and the characters as role on a stage and this one felt like an ensemble cast I would like. I read the book as a review copy and at that time, there were no playlists but I looked for the songs too.

  3. Now ordered from my library - thanks!