by Edith Cody-Rice
Rachel Joyce’s new novel The Music Shop is to dedicated readers what slow food is to foodies. You are meant to savour every delicious word and to devote some quality time to it.
The novel chronicles the small, but important life of Frank, owner of a Music Shop in a rundown English Street in an unnamed English city in 1988. Frank has a genius for listening to customers and recommending music to comfort them, usually unexpected music. But his shop handles vinyl only, nothing so infra dig as the new CD’s. He is a purist and a throw back and determined about it.
His friends are Kit, an somewhat ungainly young man who works for him, Maud a tattoo artist with a shop down the way and Father Anthony, a former priest who runs a gift shop. Other characters make brief but story advancing appearances.
Frank’s life is circumscribed, but satisfactory until a beautiful foreigner faints outside his store. So begins a tale that mixes the intermittent development of a relationship between Frank and the foreign woman, Ilse, the business pressure to get Frank to stock CD’s and community resistance to a redevelopment company that is buying up and shuttering businesses on the street.
Ms. Joyce has the gift of describing the small incidents of life in such a way that the reader can picture a gesture or a scene in detail and she has a fine sense of irony. Sometimes it does become a bit precious, but it is a talent nonetheless. In this example, Ilse hires Frank to teach her about music and after a shy encounter they say goodbye
Well, goodbye, she said to her nice shoes.
Goodbye, he said to his old pimsolls.
We can picture them staring shyly down.
And Ms. Joyce does keep up the tension. We are not sure how any of the intertwined stories will end until they do, and past, present and future mix to keep us on our toes.
The novel is a small story about small lives, yet fully alive lives with all their emotional complications and challenges. And characters behave true to type. It is what American literary critic William Dean Howells said the American public wants: a tragedy with a happy ending. I guess that appeals to the British and Canadian public too. It is a leisurely and comforting weekend read.
Published by Doubleday Canada