BOOK REVIEW: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

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Review by Chloe Waterhouse

In Rachel Joyce’s newest offering, music is the pulsing heart of the novel, impassionately pumping out raw emotion around every muscle and working joint. The Music Shop is a euphoric rollercoaster ride, with a rich ability to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary at an instant.

It’s 1988. Frank is a lowly music shop owner who (much like John Cusack’s Vinyl Clerk in High Fidelity) has a striking affiliation with the traditional vinyl record. He is a man who breathes music, regarding each piece as a national treasure. But Frank has a remarkable intuition – he can pair a vinyl with a mood, with a situation, with a personality. His customers are astounded by his ability, as Frank converts the unconvertible (turning the man who only listens to Chopin into an Aretha Franklin fan) a broken marriage is repaired through the power of music. However his life is tranformed when a mysterious woman arrives at his shop…. and does not like music.

Rachel Joyce has a profound ability to create memorable characters, from the enigma of Ilse Brauchmann to the moody contours of eclectic tattoo artist Maud. Her characters are relatable to those you would encounter in everyday life, and each one has a backstory you can empathise with, since even the strongest character professes vulnerability. As Frank begins to educate Ilse on the chemistry of music, you are whisked away into a parallel universe, where music is paramount to living. He feels the groove of James Brown, unleashes the unrestrained rebellion of Sex Pistols, sways to the non-linear Jazz of Miles Davis. His passion exquisitely lept out of the page and engulfed my own mind, compelling me to dance with him to these tracks. I particularly loved the use of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons throughout the novel, which cleverly tied the plot together down to it’s final climax.

The Music Shop is not exclusive to die-hard music lovers however, as it educates the reader throughout, and I felt that the book was just as educating as it was entertaining. As a passionate vinyl collector myself, I related to Frank’s plight to keep his store running by selling only vinyl, and sympathised with his character on an intimate level. Joyce integrates a light-hearted humour throughout the novel, from the headstrong waitress who serves Ilse and Frank amusing variations of culinary experiments, to bubbly shop assistant Kit, who has a tendency to break every item in sight.

The Music Shop is not just a tale of love; it’s a comment on the spirit of community. The working-class struggle Frank experiences when trying to maintain his financially crumbling store is shared by every other shop-owner in his vicinity. When a company threatens to buy off the land, all members of Frank’s community stand together to preserve the legacy of their shop parade, and this collective unity becomes an inspirational force to be reckoned with.

Irrepressibly romantic, yet rooted in morality and community spirit, The Music Shop is a compulsory read for anyone who will listen.

Because after all, music saves us all.

Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit