I’ve included Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop because a dear friend says it’s her favourite book ever, and I am pretty sure she’s not alone in that.
It’s set in a fading record shop in a bypassed street where the owner, our Frank, magically recommends exactly the music that people need to make them feel fine. Nice idea. Bit of a fantasy.
It is a whimsical story, the sort of thing to be read aloud in a sing song voice, simplistic, with more than the occasional cliché, like the lycra-clad joggers (how very unoriginal) and “silence was where the magic happened” which sounds very much like a line that belongs in the children’s section of the library. You’re not expected to remember much. Minor characters are “The man who only liked Chopin” and “the waitress,” as if giving them names would be too taxing for the reader.
Why does this book annoy me so much and what’s it doing in my review pages, when I only review books I love? Well, I love my friend and I know why she loves this book so I am happy to recommend it. For a start she’s a much kinder person than I am and not so critical. She looks for, and finds, the good in things. She’s not irritated by a narrator’s point of view jumping about and is more interested in the hearts of the people in the story. She believes magic can blossom from mundanity. She’s prepared to take a leap of faith and hang around with these ordinary people and really listen to them and that elevates the book into something glorious. There’s a lot about listening in this story. Maybe that’s why I found it challenging.
The music bits were cool, where Frank matches music to his customers’ moods: getting his bank manager and cold wife dancing to A Night to Remember by Shalamar; Shaft to be loyal to your friends, lethal to your enemies and tender to your women. Miles Davis to open doors, one after another. Wild Thing by the Troggs for a lullaby (should have tried that with mine!). There are songs suggested in every chapter, it’s a bit like having a wine match with your dinner. I searched the recommended songs and played them as I read, which I did enjoy.
And between the patronising glibness there were some expressive turns of phrase. “The air had a kind of blue feel,” is a nice nod to Miles and a good description of an old vinyl shop vibe. “Her heart leaps about like a thing with strings,” is wonderfully descriptive.
The Music Shop is very similar in style to the equally quaint Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by the same author, and The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, which again was recommended to me by a dear friend, who listens well. Thinking about it, all these recommendations came from carers: one a nurse one a doctor. So I guess these books are one for my compassionate friends and I should bite my tongue and listen better while I read.