The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is a quirky little story with a quirky little cast of lovably, eccentric characters. One of the reasons I love British authors (and British television shows) is their absolute mastery of understatement and irony. I adored Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine for the same reason. Rachel Joyce also wrote The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which I must now add to my list of books to read. A good writer can turn the most mundane everyday events into something you become immersed in and don’t want to put down. As I read The Music Shop I enjoyed a good belly chuckle about every second page for most of the book, until toward the end where it took a different turn.
Set in Margaret Thatcher’s England of right-wing politics in the late 80’s, The Music Shop is about half a dozen people living on a little dead-end street in London called (ironically) Unity Street. Their local pub is called England’s Glory. One side of the street is row housing occupied by long-term residents who can either no longer afford to keep up their properties or have simply lost interest. The other side of the street referred to in quaint British terms as ‘the parade’ is a series of barely surviving shops. There’s a disagreeable tattoo artist, a pair of peculiar undertakers, a Polish baker, a defrocked priest who sells religious objects like plastic statues of Jesus and leather religious bookmarks, and a music shop that sells only vinyl. A purist to the core, Frank, who owns and manages the music shop, refuses to carry cassettes, CDs or another paraphernalia related to music that is not recorded on original vinyl.
The little neighbourhood is threatened by developers, a common occurrence in large urban centres. But the residents and shop keepers on Unity Street are united in keeping their little corner of the world intact and serving their particular and peculiar needs. Then, one day a lovely young German woman in a green coat faints in front of Frank’s store and it sets off a chain of events that have a life-long impact on their lives. The plot is minor; the events are mundane and the characters, while totally ordinary in that quirky British way are made colourful and fascinating by Joyce’s loving, sensitive and descriptive narrative.
Music lovers will especially enjoy the dozens and dozens of references to classical, rock, heavy metal, soul and other types of music described in the book. Music is the language that binds so many of these odd characters together and the author dispenses a great deal of knowledge about music, composers and musicians. I can’t claim to have any knowledge of music beyond knowing the words to every single sixties pop piece ever released but I learned a lot of background reading this little book. I was tempted to start writing down many of the recordings described to listen to so that it would give me a greater understanding of the depth of particular musical pieces.
Toward the end of the book, the humour drops off in preparation for a tumultuous finale. I thoroughly enjoyed The Music Shop. Music is not a subject I would have normally have been inclined to pick up a book about, but Rachel Joyce’s warm and sensitive writing made it fun and informative. I’d give it 8 out of 10 because it surprised and informed me more than I expected.
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