Rachel Joyce’s novel will be published on 13 July and has been keenly anticipated, after the success of her previous novels, including The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which was longlisted for the Man Booker.
It is 1988 and Frank owns a record shop in Unity Street. As its name could suggest, Unity street does boast a community of altruist shop owners who rile around each other when the going gets tough. There’s Maud from the tattoo shop, Father Anthony with his gift shop, and two twins who own the undertakers. There’s also the rather clumsy record shop assistant at whom Frank occasionally snaps. If this list feels a little like a Dramatis Personæ, then that’s because it does tend to lean towards one. Each character is perfectly sketched out with the right elements to make them ‘human’. Some kindness here, an obvious flaw there, and a redeeming feature thrown in too. At points it feels a little too twee. But the book is wonderful in other ways. Sometimes it’s witty, sometimes sad, and sometimes it’s like cradling a warm cup of tea in your hands.
Frank’s obvious flaw is that he is lonely and that he does not look for ways to alleviate this. Instead, he throws himself into helping other people – his redeeming feature being his expertise in being able to sense what people need in their lives, and which particular record will rectify that. Frank’s loneliness is also clarified in the parallel narrative of his past, which interweaves the chapters. Structurally, this creates an interesting dichotomy between past and present, especially when Ilse Brauchmann, a mysterious German lady in a pea-green coat, walks into his life. However, when disaster strikes near the end of the book, the characters rush headlong into the novel’s conclusion. While this makes for fast-paced reading, one can’t help wish the first three quarters of the book had been a little pacier, too.
Ilse and Frank’s friendship is borne from a love of music and they both recognise it as essential in their lives. Indeed, Virginia Woolf once said, “How many times have people used a pen or paintbrush because they couldn’t pull the trigger?”. The sentiment of using art as a salve, as something powerful and healing, is extremely real. And that is exactly what The Music Shop conveys. The plot and characters of The Music Shop acknowledge art as a comforter and cause for hope – and that is what this novel is, too.
The Music Shop will be published by Doubleday Books on 13th July 2017.