Rachel Joyce is a master of tender, heartening storytelling. I’ve read two of her three novels, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Music Shop. In both cases, I wanted to curl up and live in her stories for a while. Joyce’s writing epitomizes sweetness.
The Music Shop takes place on Unity Street, where a tiny row of rundown shops exist despite all odds – a bakery, an undertaker, a Christian store, a tattoo parlor, and a vinyl record store. The masonry is falling from the shopfronts, the town council wants to demolish and redevelop Unity Street, and the little community of shop owners and their neighbors are barely scraping by. Yet, they form a scrabbled together family who does not wish to be split apart.
Frank owns the music shop, and has a knack for suggesting the exact right song for each of his customers. A customer is likely to come into the shop asking for one thing, and walk out with something completely different, yet expressly what they needed in the moment:
“Frank could not play music, he could not read a score, he had no practical knowledge whatsoever, but when he sat in front a customer and truly listened, he heard a kind of song”.
In this way, Frank becomes the center of his little community, comprised of people whose lives he has transformed through music. He is well-loved, despite being stubborn and a tiny bit bumbling.
Frank’s life is forever altered when a pretty woman in a pea green coat peers into the music shop one day, and promptly faints. Frank and his fellow shopkeepers revive her, and instantly their curiosity is piqued by the mysterious woman. Gradually, she and Frank get to know each other. She suggests Frank give her music lessons, and they meet at a little cafe each week. No matter that she is engaged to someone else, Frank is besotted and seems quite comfortable with his seemingly unrequited love:
“Real love was a journey with many pitfalls and complications, and sometimes the place you ended up was not the one you hoped for. But there. Better to have held her hand on a summer’s day than to have had nothing at all”.
I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there. My one criticism is that the story is a tiny bit cheesy. It’s a good sort of cheesiness though. The kind that verges on saccharine without tipping fully over. Music lovers will appreciate Frank’s suggestions and varied stock of vinyl. Readers will fall in love with the charming characters. The Music Shop is a feel-good must-read.