The Music Shop was one of the loveliest books I’ve read this year and I wish I could go back and read it for the first time again. It’s set in 1980’s London, in a music shop on a back street (Unity street) with a few other shops, such as a tattoo parlour and pub. All the shop owners know each other, so there’s a real sense of community. During the time period the novel is set Thatcher is in power and even though there’s only one reference to her, you can feel her influence, be it in the ebbing community spirit regardless of how much it’s grasped at, or the general decline of the neighbourhood.
The owner of the music shop, Frank, is the novels protagonist, a forty-year-old chain smoker. Music was the basis of the relationship with his unconventional mother, Peg, and after each chapter in the eighties, there’s a chapter when he was growing up, listening to music with her while she imparted her knowledge of each composer. Frank instinctively knows what record any person on any day needs, be it Aretha Franklin or Tchaikovsky. He is some kind of musical guru who helps anyone who needs it. The chief plot is Frank’s resistance to C.D’s, which are replacing Vinyl. Frank can’t stand the idea of what he thinks of as soulless CD’s replacing his beloved vinyl. He adores the format and will do whatever he can to retain it.
One day a woman who no-one has ever seen before faints on the street outside Franks shop. When she wakes up there's an instant connection between her and Frank and even though she disappears just as quickly as she arrives, without speaking a word to anyone, she soon becomes an integral part of the novel. Don’t be mistaken that this is a romance novel, though, because it’s not. It’s a novel chiefly about music and the power it holds. The romantic element was very much secondary.
A subplot that related to the time period was that of a property-developer who wanted to buy up all the shops on Unity street to build new houses. This would mean the destruction of not only homes and businesses, but also a community.
The idea of community was a large part of the novel and one which I really appreciated. For so long we’ve been told that it’s all about the individual but IMO this is just wrong. I know that I personally do better when I’m part of something that brings people together and I can feel a shift back to this idea.
The best part of the novel, apart from the focus on music (which I loved) was the vast array of characters who each had their own quirks and history with Frank. From his assistant Kip with his constant mishaps, to the snarky tattooist next door, I loved them all.
This is a lovely novel and while it mightn’t win any awards, it was great for what it was and has left me eager for more of Rachel Joyce.