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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
Contemporary fiction

The Music Shop

by Rachel Joyce

Quick take

A harmonious (get it?) love story between an gifted music shop owner and an enigmatic customer.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Happy


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_80s


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Music


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_90s


Why I love it

Kim Hubbard
People Magazine

What is it about music "whether it’s the soaring majesty of a Beethoven symphony or James Brown’s just-gotta-dance funk" that touches the human heart so deeply? How can artfully arranged notes cheer you up when you’re down, remind you we’re all connected, or break your heart? (And why, since there aren’t that many notes to choose from, hasn’t every possible song already been written? I’ve always wondered—but I digress.)

This charmer of a novel doesn’t exactly answer those questions, but if pondering them interests you, you’re going to love it. It’s the late 1980s, and Frank Adair, a youngish man who’s been damaged in ways that aren’t immediately made clear, owns a record shop on a rundown street in a British suburb. CDs are threatening to make vinyl obsolete, yet Frank refuses to sell anything but the latter. It would be a disastrous business plan if he didn’t have a singular talent: Whenever a customer walks in, Frank can "hear" exactly what music that person needs. A sad sack demanding only Chopin? Frank says he’ll groove to Aretha. ("Who?" asks the sad sack. But as it turns out, Frank’s right.)

But when a lovely woman named Ilse Brauchmann appears in the shop one day and promptly faints, Frank learns the limits of his gift—he "hears" nothing from Ilse at all. What follows is a love story wrapped in a mystery, in a rapidly changing neighborhood. Why is Ilse, who signs up for regular music lessons with Frank, so evasive about her past, and about the fiance who’s never in evidence? Will Frank lose her along with his shop, which, like the small businesses run by his quirky friends, is ever more threatened by gentrification?

As the story moves forward, flashbacks illuminate both Frank’s genius and the reason for his sorrows, and Ilse’s secrets are slowly revealed. You’ll root for these two wounded, wary souls and for music’s potential to heal them, and finish the book humming everything from Handel’s Hallelujah chorus to Nick Drake.

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It is 1988. On a dead-end street in a run-down suburb there is a music shop that stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. Like a beacon, the shop attracts the lonely, the sleepless, and the adrift; Frank, the shop’s owner, has a way of connecting his customers with just the piece of music they need. Then, one day, into his shop comes a beautiful young woman, Ilse Brauchmann, who asks Frank to teach her about music. Terrified of real closeness, Frank feels compelled to turn and run, yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems, and Frank has old wounds that threaten to reopen, as well as a past it seems he will never leave behind. Can a man who is so in tune with other people’s needs be so incapable of connecting with the one person who might save him? The journey that these two quirky, wonderful characters make in order to overcome their emotional baggage speaks to the healing power of music'”and love'”in this poignant, ultimately joyful work of fiction.

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