After kind of a rough start to the year’s reading, I finally broke through with Rachel Joyce’s delightful The Music Shop. It tells the story of Frank, a record shop owner on a little commercial side street in London, and his misfit family of neighbors and fellow shop owners, from Father Anthony, proprietor of the little Catholic gift shop, and Kit, the always energetic bull-in-the-china-shop who helps out in Frank’s store to the Williams’ brothers, local undertakers, and Maud, a tattoo artist who is not so secretly in love with Frank, as they try to live their lives and make a living. Frank has a gift–he knows exactly what music you need to hear based on what’s going on in your life, even if you don’t know it. He’s a music therapist of sorts, and his customers are few but fiercely loyal. Interspersed throughout the present day worries about the shops going under and the street being bought by a developer are vignettes where we see Frank’s relationship with his unconventional mother, Peg, who inspired both his intense love of music and his fear of intimacy. That is until the day they all meet Ilse Brauchmann, the woman in a green coat who upends all their lives.
This is such a sweet, charming book! It’s kind of like reading a Richard Curtis movie, one with a distinct About a Boy vibe. It reads quickly, and even the more serious parts have a lightness to them. The delightfully quirky characters are all really more defined by their quirks than any real depth, but they are distinct and enjoyable. No one was too too, and I found myself casting the roles as I read. And most importantly, I was rooting for them. Not just Frank and Ilse but all of them: Father Anthony, Kit, Maud, everyone. It is their relationships with each other, their care for each other, their willingness to help each other before themselves, and the family that they create on their little street that really bring the depth to the story. It’s almost like these are people Joyce knows, and she is creating loving tributes to them in her novel. By the end, I was sad to see them go and glad I got to spend some time among them.
Mostly this is a book about love and the different ways it manifests in our lives: love of music, love for your community, fear of love, second third fourth chances at love. It’s about being open to those around us and the importance of the families we make, not just the ones we have. And it reminds us of the all-important power of music as a healer and magnifier of life, something I think most of us have experienced at one point or another.
The Music Shop is nothing spectacular, but it is lovingly and beautifully written. You can tell Joyce enjoyed writing it, and I, as a reader, had fun thinking about music and connections in different and new ways. The music selection in the book was incredible, and maybe one day I’ll make my own The Music Shop Mixtape. Overall, this was a nice uptick in quality from my initial new reads this year, especially after a few disappointments from some of my regular authors. It was refreshing, and I felt finally launched into my reading for 2018 with it. It’s not a book to challenge you, necessarily, but it’s a book that will make you feel good.