There’s a new and delightful novel, The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, which I’m kicking myself for not having written first.
The setting is a music shop whose owner, Frank, refuses to sell anything but vinyl LPs in the face of the Compact Disc whose introduction in the mid-80s quickly shrank the demand for anything else. (Now 30 years later, vinyl is back, comprising nearlhy 9% of all recordings sold in 2017.)
But in addition to his stubbornness, Frank has an unsual gift: he’s able to intuit what music will lift the spirits of his customers, regardless of their familiarity with it or not. One curmudgeonly customer arrives in a dour mood insisting on nothing but Chopin but leaves the shop having fallen in love with Aretha Franklin, her voice “a little boat and the music a Japanese wave.”
Like Rachel Joyce, I believe music has an unsual, almost mystical, power to reach the human heart, and, in doing so, to heal, comfort, and inspire. Though Frank is a musical shaman, his feelings of love only reach out in compassion to others. He keeps his own tightly bound up inside himself as he sits day after day behind the counter placing his precious vinyl on the turntable.
Then one day, a woman named Ilse faints on the sidewalk in front of the store. Frank goes to her aid and finds himself gazing into “eyes like vinyl.” He instantly falls in love, and the feeling, it seems, is mutual. The following scene where the author describes Frank taking Ilse inside the store following their dance of glances and patter of conversation is a gem. She eventually must leave but her purse is left behind. Did she do this on purpose to have an excuse to return? Frank wonders, and so do the group of misfits who work with Frank and the few remaining shops on Unity Street.
They all want Frank to find love and happiness, to experience something of the happiness he has elicited in others with his gift of music. As the novel progresses, it remains uncertain whether Frank will ever open his heart. Yes, the issue for Frank is that simple, which makes Joyce’s novel so very appealing.
I predict that music itself will have the last word…..