*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book via NetGalley in return for an unbiased and honest review*
The Music Shop is a story about good, ordinary people who take on forces too big for them. It's about falling in love and how hard it can be. And it's about music - how it can bring us together when we are divided and save us when all seems lost.
Meet Frank. It's 1988 and the CD has arrived but Frank only deals in vinyl. And he has a gift.
"If you told Frank the kind of thing you wanted, or simply how you felt that day, he had the right track in minutes. It was a knack he had. A gift. He knew what people needed even whey they didn't know it themselves."
In this cramped, music shop rammed full of vinyl, there's Frank, Father Anthony, Maud and Kit; waiting for new customers, watching Frank work his magic - whether it is catching the teenager who steals a Genesis record only to tell him to keep it but please come back to the shop and listen to their early stuff as it as much better, or finding the right piece of piano music that "will arrive like a little raft and carry [this customer] safely home".
And it wasn't long before I pulled up a stool next to them, entranced and entertained by this quirky bunch of characters, the friendship and loyalty that exists between them and Frank's delightful love for music and mending people with the right song. I'm a big fan of bibliotherapy and novels like "The Little Paris Cafe" and this felt similar yet with music - which I think can be more evocative, more powerful and more unifying.
The tone of voice in the novel is perfect, striking a perfect balance between humour, candid observation and beautiful imagery and description. In Frank, Joyce has crafted a character who will stay with the reader long after the book is finished in the same way a beautiful tune echoes through your mind days after you heard it somewhere.
I loved the detail and lengths Joyce went to in talking about music and why vinyl was so much more superior to a CD. When the reps tell him, yet again, to stock CDs because the sound is clean, Frank replies to himself with "What's music got to do with clean? Where is the humanity in clean? Life has surface noise! Do you want to listen to furniture polish?"
Where is the humanity in clean indeed. Perhaps this captures the essence of the novel. It is about humanity. It is about the bits of dirt that snag, that catch us, the stain we can't wash out, the moment or the fear that stops us from saying what we want to say or doing what we want to do. This is a novel about Frank and Ilse Brauchmann - the women who wanders into his shop by accident one day - and it is about the things which make us human; love, grief, fear and hope.
"The gaps and the cracks. Because that was where life really happened, when you were brave enough to free-fall."
As well as the present day story line of Ilse and Frank, we also have flashbacks of Frank and his mother which helps us understand his response to Ilse but also shows us how his passion for music developed. This book is full of educative and informative things about composers and their music and the author must have done a huge amount of research for this novel, but I loved the way this knowledge was conveyed.
"Before the Messiah things were a bit shit for Handel."
This is the way you would want to be taught about music! There are constant references to songs, lyrics and composers in each chapter title and section heading. This is a fully immersive experience and the depth to which the author has used music in her writing is incredible. Joyce can write beautifully and with her own mesmerising lyricism but she is also clearly a sharp, intelligent and observant author.
As the book continues it moves through stages of heartbreak and sadness, bleakness and loss then uplifting passages of love, hope and the power of people to come together and help the one character who is so good at finding the answers for everyone else, find the answers for himself. Even when there are sections that are serious, sad and heavy going there is always a touch of humour, wit and it's impossible not to have a smile or smirk on your face for most of the time you are reading. Again, it's a great balance between being sensitive and moving but never over bearing or dark.
This is a story of characters for whom life doesn't go according to plan. There are people who are imprisoned, scared, trapped in their past but somehow, through music, they're able to come to terms with their failings and begin to find their hopes, dreams and new starts.
The final section of the book - I can't give too many details away as it will totally spoil everything - but oh my goodness, I was wiping away my tears. The description of the scenes were so powerful, so heartfelt, so emotional and so moving that I was utterly engrossed. Joyce does a magnificent job of encapsulating not only all the characters and various plot threads but also more universal themes of music, therapy, community and acts of kindness.
This is an incredibly uplifting book. It illustrates how music can be used as a way to understand yourself, the world around you and a way in which to bring people together. It is a special novel; seemingly simple but actually with a tremendous amount to say.
I loved it. I have been touched by it and by the characters. And I desperately want to hold a vinyl record in my hands! Highly recommend.
The Music Shop is published by DoubleDay on 13th July 2013.
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