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Rachel Joyce's fourth novel, The Music Shop, follows a record-shop owner who has a rare gift for music therapy.
THE MUSIC SHOP
Penguin Random House
By HANNAH BECKERMAN
Since her bestselling debut in 2012,The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce has established a reputation for novels that celebrate the dignity and courage of ordinary people and the resilience of the human spirit.
Her fourth novel, The Music Shop, is driven by the same impulse.
Set in 1988, it follows record-shop owner Frank, who has a rare gift for music therapy: he can find the perfect piece to remedy any emotional or psychological woes his customers are suffering from.
"Frank had helped them through illness, grief, loss of confidence and jobs, as well as the more daily things like football results and the weather. Not that he knew about all those things, but really it was a matter of listening, and he had endless patience.''
Frank's premises are on the aptly named Unity Street, where his fellow shopkeepers are a motley crew of troubled, disenfranchised individuals: "Frank might have cut a lonely figure but this did not make him unusual on Unity Street, where many people had once been alone.''
There is Maud the tattooist, Father Anthony with his shop devoted to religious iconography, Mr Novak the baker and the heartbreakingly poignant Williams brothers, who run the funeral parlour and are often seen holding hands.
All these outsiders have survived, or are still struggling with, some adversity, and Joyce has a rare gift for evoking the quiet tragedies of their lives with compassion and care.
But Unity Street is under threat. A local development company wants to acquire and demolish all the buildings to make way for housing. Meanwhile, Frank is battling with record companies who are pressuring him to stock CDs instead of his beloved vinyl.
Into this assortment of melancholic lives walks Ilse Brauchmann, a mysterious German woman in a green coat, who faints outside Frank's shop.
Slowly, tentatively - with subtle and sensitive pacing by Joyce - she becomes involved with the Unity Street residents, and with Frank in particular, as her own painful secrets are revealed.
The Music Shop is a novel about people on the cusp of change and about having the courage to undergo personal transformation.
As with Joyce's other books, community proves to be the catalyst - and the saviour - for these characters.
In the residents' David-and-Goliath fight against the property developers, there are resonances of Harold Fry's walk across Britain, though here redemption comes in more nuanced guises.
But what really elevates The Music Shop is Joyce's detailed knowledge of music.
There are stories here about composers and musicians ranging from Beethoven, Vivaldi and Purcell to Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin and the Sex Pistols.
Joyce weaves these into Frank's musical therapy and the flashbacks to his childhood with his bohemian, emotionally remote mother, Peg, who taught him how to listen: "Music is about silence... the silence at the beginning of a piece of music is always different from the silence at the end... because if you listen, the world changes. It's like falling in love. Only no-one gets hurt.''
This could equally be a description of Joyce's prose: here is a love story that's as much about the silences between words as what is said - the spaces between people that can be filled with mystery, confusion and misunderstanding as well as hope.
- Guardian News and Media