I imagine a connoisseur’s first breath of a renowned French Bordeaux, the anticipation it summons in every taste bud and nasal receptor. I try to channel a connoisseur’s patience. The first ten pages of Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop offer up such richly layered, refined prose that I feel the eagerness of a greedy wine drinker, wanting to gulp it all down in one sitting. I quell the urge, intending to savor every word.
“Music is about silence,” she said in the white house by the sea.
. . .
Easing the new record from its sleeve, she raised it toward the window. She tipped it this way, that way. Black as licorice and twice as shiny. He breathed in the beautiful smell.
. . .
“And of course 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.”
All of Frank’s childhood memories involve music, his mother’s passion for it, her wide-spanned knowledge, her intuition, the ‘tick, tick, tick’ on the first grooves of the vinyl.
“You see? You see what Beethoven’s doing? This is silence inside music, too. It’s like reaching a hole. You don’t know what will happen next.”
. . .
Silence was where the magic happened.
In the wake of his mother’s death Frank opens a small music shop, stocking it, at first, with the collection of albums he inherited from her. For fifteen years he leads a simple, happy life famous among his neighborhood friends for his uncanny ability to fathom and find just the right music for anyone who stops by. For ‘the man who only liked Chopin’ Frank prescribes Aretha Franklin who screams with him and lulls him out of his broken heart. For the banker’s crying energy-filled baby he offers up ‘Wild Thing’ by the Troggs as a lullaby. He finds the right music to rouse an alcoholic ex-priest into sobriety. He finds the perfect torch songs for ailing marriages.
Then he falls in love. A mysterious woman in a green coat happens upon his shop. She wants to learn about music. He talks. She listens. With each new offering of vinyl records she returns, more captivated each time with Frank.
So Frank told her the story of Chopin and the Prelude No. 15 in D flat major for a second time, and as he did, she sat with her face cupped in her hands, watching the rain at the window.
Their intimacy grows, secrets emerge, truths unfold, yet physically the most they achieve is hand holding. They both seem so pure, so perfect and so fragile. So, I will not spoil this love story by describing its ebb tides, its resurgent waves, its crests and its climax.
Like the music that Frank and his mother describe, Rachel Joyce’s writing requires and deserves your full, undivided attention. Each word, each pause and every nuanced character inhabit the story in perfect harmony. Like the small, aging neighborhood surrounding The Music Shop nothing about it should be passed over unappreciated.
Do not guzzle. Take your time and remember to breathe — stop now and then just to appreciate the full bouquet. Or stop just to let the tears flow.