“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast. To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”
From The Mourning Bride by William Congreve
William Congreve’s proverb is put to the test in Rachel Joyce’s marvelous new book, The Music Shop.
Her kind but peculiar protagonist Frank believes that the right tunes can be an elixir to everything from a broken heart to sadness about the latest football scores. Frank’s customers count on him to find the perfect album to help them through illness, grief and insecurity, even though it may not be what they expect. When a sad man whose new wife slept with his best man comes in looking for Chopin, Frank makes him listen to Aretha Franklin, which does the trick. (Who doesn’t need some Aretha from time to time?)
The story is enhanced by Frank’s delightful friends, including 18-year-old Kit, the bumbling shop assistant who tries so hard but always seems to mess things up. Kit is joined by Maud, a grouchy tattoo parlor owner, and Father Anthony, a sweet religious gift shop owner.
Despite Frank’s incredible talent at knowing exactly what his customers need to hear, his love for vinyl goes against the changing times. It’s 1988 London, and record shops are being replaced by the newest technology, the CD. He refuses to cave into the pressure of his sales reps to convert his stock of LPs to CDs, which jeopardizes his livelihood.
One day a beautiful young woman visits his shop and faints, turning Frank’s life upside down. He is smitten but tongue-tied and shaky, unable to show his true feelings. Eventually music helps him build a friendship with Ilse. But can he ever let love into his life? He was raised by an eccentric, foul-mouthed mother who never showed him any affection and insisted he call her Peg instead of Mother. Although she couldn’t give Frank the love he craved, she did teach him a lot about music.
Joyce peppers the book with a variety of music based on Frank’s recommendations and has a playlist on Spotify for her readers, from Handel’s Messiah to David Bowie’s Starman. You can find it here, if you have a Spotify account, or if you create an account: https://open.spotify.com/user/penguinbooks/playlist/1skEBZppUBtHBXxdcYIHns
Don’t forget that a lot of the music mentioned in the book can be found in our library’s CD collection or downloaded using the Hoopla app.
One of Joyce’s other books I enjoyed, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, demonstrates she is gifted at creating thoughtful stories filled with memorable characters. The Music Shop is just as charming.