Besides reading books, my other major passion is music. I got my master’s degree in music business, and in addition to Amanda’s Book Corner here, I’ve also run a music news site called Hidden Jams since 2014. So when my two passions collide, I get extra excited. One such collision is in Rachel Joyce‘s The Music Shop, a novel I was fortunate to discover on shelves deep within Barnes & Noble one cloudy afternoon.
The Music Shop can be defined by two words in particular: musical and quirky. Perhaps the former should be obvious, based on the title. But music here doesn’t just pose as a subtle element of the plot. No, this novel lives and breathes music. For example, it’s divided into four parts, identified here as sides. It starts with Side A and ends with Side D – a perfect homage to vinyl records.
Speaking of vinyl, the backdrop of the story is a record shop that only sells vinyl. It’s the late 1980s, and cassettes have overtaken vinyl sales, with CDs on the rise next. But our lead character, Frank, insists on keeping it real with only vinyl. As such, his old-school shop is in serious jeopardy, like many of the shops on his street.
Before we continue with the musicality and the plot, let’s dive into how quirky this book is. The Music Shop benefits from an all-knowing narrator with big personality and a sense of humor. We get a rich and dynamic cast of characters, from a tattooed florist to a dopey record store assistant. While most of the characters have names, the humor comes out in identifying some of the others. One character is only ever known as “the man who only liked Chopin”; a pair of brothers never get first names to go with their last.
The story starts with Frank, a 40-year-old man who owns a record store. Then one day, a mysterious woman enters his life – and the lives of all his neighboring store owners. Questions surround her, but she’s not telling her secrets. But what we do know is she doesn’t like music. At all. Frank, who’s devoted his life to music, can’t understand this. After a time, this woman, Ilse, decides she wants to learn about music and asks Frank for lessons.
This works perfectly for Frank, who grew up getting music listening lessons with his (rather problematic) mother. Indeed, between the 1988 chapters, we get mini chapters that peek back in time to the music Frank learned about – everything from Beethoven to Billie Holiday. We, too, learn how to listen and what to hear.
Throughout the story, The Music Shop plays like a lighthearted, silly novel. The characterization and humor make it feel breezy. But as we move deeper into the plot, we start to encounter weightier themes. By the end, we’ve stumbled upon some dark elements. There’s more than meets the eye here, but the tender writing makes it easier to absorb.
Side D jumps forward in time, priming readers for a cheesy, musical-esque ending that will leave tears in your eyes.
The Music Shop is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, and one I will treasure for years to come. It’s a fun and easy read for the most part, but the heavier themes make it a story that will stick with you. Do yourself a favor and read The Music Shop, because it will leave you feeling warm and happy and ready to really listen to some tunes.
No music-themed novel is complete without a playlist! Enjoy the official The Music Shop playlist below: