Yesterday I finished Rachel Joyce’s latest novel, The Music Shop, which in perfect Rachel Joyce fashion was a very intimate visit with its inhabitants. But as I was sitting here struggling to come up with something to say about its plot, I realized that the book was simply an experience, much like the music it employs to help tell its tale. Frank, music shop owner and vinyl aficionado, is a bit of a musical healer, gifted with the ability to find the right music at the right time for his customers. His shop, in fact, is organized by mood and not by genre; Aretha Franklin and Bach, it seems, are equal players in mending a broken heart. The only person Frank can not save with his music, however, is himself.
Frank is joined by his fellow Unity Street shop owners as they jointly try to fend off their neighborhood’s inevitable gentrification, but beyond this common mission they have formed a familial bubble around Frank. Father Anthony, the love-scorned former priest, Maude the invisibly pining tattoo artist, Kit, Frank’s shop assistant—even if Frank refuses to acknowledge their place in his life, they are consistently present for him. It takes the shock of newcomer, Ilse Brauchmann, to shake Frank loose, though it is still through music that he is able to begin to explore their relationship. After hearing Frank’s passionate plea for Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Ilse requests music lessons, or rather weekly sessions in which Frank expounds on some of his favorite songs.
Frank and Ilse require a fair amount of patience. Neither is really in a hurry to reveal much about themselves nor to give themselves to the possibility of a deeper relationship, though I never really doubted where the story was heading. Even if their love story wasn’t anything new, per se, the passages about music made the journey worthwhile, enough so that I found myself wanting to pause to go listen to whatever had just been discussed. (Added bonus: there’s a complete playlist at the end of the book.) Whether or not Joyce was channeling this musical therapy through Frank or his mother, Peg, it was a rich experience, and clearly exhibited something unexpected about Joyce herself.
Joyce managed to keep me on the edge of my seat for the book’s finale, saving the best (and loudest) for its end. Somehow its ending still felt like a triumph, even if there was never an imagined alternative in my mind. If nothing else, The Music Shop created a longing to sit and truly listen to music, not as background noise, but as a complete, enveloping, experience. Frank’s knowledge wasn’t technical, it was emotional and sensory, and perhaps this was The Music Shop’s most basic lesson: stop and listen.
*Featured photo credit: Jonas Smith