Excerpt: The Music Shop
A love story and a journey through music. The exquisite and perfectly pitched new novel from the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryPerfect and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

It's 1988. The CD has arrived. Sales of the shiny new disks are soaring on high streets in cities across the England. Meanwhile, down a dead-end street, Frank's music shop stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. It attracts the lonely, the sleepless, the adrift. There is room for everyone. Frank has a gift for finding his customers the music they need.
     Into this shop arrives Ilse Brauchmann--practical, brave, well-heeled. Frank falls for this curious woman who always dresses in green. But Ilse's reasons for visiting the shop are not what they seem.
     Frank's passion for Ilse seems as misguided as his determination to save vinyl. How can a man so in tune with other people's needs be so incapable of helping himself? And what will it take to show he loves her?
     The Music Shop is a story about good, ordinary people who take on forces too big for them. It's about falling in love and how hard it can be. And it's about music--how it can bring us together when we are divided and save us when all seems lost.
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The Man Who Only Liked Chopin
Frank sat smoking behind his turntable, same as always, watching the window. Mid-afternoon, and it was almost dark out there. The day had hardly been a day at all. A drop in temperature had brought the beginnings of a frost and Unity Street glittered beneath the street lights. The air had a kind of blue feel.
     The other four shops on the parade were already closed but he had put on the lava lamps and the electric fire. The music shop was warm and colourfully lit. At the counter, Maud the tattooist stood flicking through fanzines while Father Anthony made an origami flower. Saturday Kit had collected all the Emmylou Harris and was trying to arrange them in alphabetical order without Frank noticing.
     ‘I had no customers again,’ said Maud, very loud. Even though Frank was at the back of the shop and she was at the front, there was technically no need to shout. The shops on Unity Street were only the size of a front room. ‘Are you listening?’
     ‘I’m listening.’
     ‘You don’t look like you’re listening.’
     Frank took off his headphones. Smiled. He felt laugh lines spring all over his face and his eyes crinkled at the corners. ‘See? I’m always listening.’
     Maud made a noise like ‘Ham.’ Then she said, ‘One man called in, but it wasn’t for a tattoo. He just wanted directions to the new precinct.’
     Father Anthony said he’d sold a paperweight in his gift shop. Also, a leather bookmark with the Lord’s Prayer stamped on it. He seemed more than happy about that.
     ‘If it stays like this, I’ll be closed by summer.’
     ‘You won’t, Maud. You’ll be fine.’ They had this conversation all the time. She said how awful things were, and Frank said they weren’t, Maud, they weren’t. You two are like a stuck record, Kit told them, which might have been funny except that he said it every night, and besides, they weren’t a couple. Frank was very much a single man.
     ‘Do you know how many funerals the undertakers have had?’
     ‘No, Maud.’
     ‘Two. Two since Christmas. What’s wrong with people?’
     ‘Maybe they’re not dying,’ suggested Kit.
     ‘Of course they’re dying. People don’t come here any more. All they want is that crap on the high street.’
     Only last month the florist had gone. Her empty shop stood on one end of the parade like a bad tooth, and a few nights ago the baker’s window – he was at the other end – had been defaced with slogans. Frank had fetched a bucket of soapy water but it took all morning to wash them off.
     ‘There have always been shops on Unity Street,’ said Father Anthony. ‘We’re a community. We belong here.’
     Saturday Kit passed with a box of new twelve-inch singles, narrowly missing a lava lamp. He seemed to have abandoned Emmylou Harris. ‘We had another shoplifter today,’ he said, apropos of not very much atall. ‘First he flipped because we had no CDs. Then he asked to look at a record and made a run for it.’
     ‘What was it this time?’
     ‘Genesis. Invisible Touch.
     ‘What did you do, Frank?’
     ‘Oh, he did the usual,’ said Kit.
     Yes, Frank had done the sort of thing he always did. He’d grabbed his old suede jacket and loped after the young man until he caught him at the bus stop. (What kind of thief waited for the number 11?) He’d said, between deep breaths, that he would call the police unless the lad came back and tried something new in the listening booth. He could keep the Genesis record if he wanted the thing so much, though it broke Frank’s heart that he was nicking the wrong one – their early stuff was tons better. He could have the album for nothing, and even the sleeve; ‘so long as you try “Fingal’s Cave”. If you like Genesis, trust me. You’ll love Mendelssohn.’
     ‘I wish you’d think about selling the new CDs,’ said Father Anthony.
     ‘Are you joking?’ laughed Kit. ‘He’d rather die than sell CDs.’
Then the door opened and ding-dong; a new customer. Frank felt a ping of excitement.
     A tidy, middle-aged man followed the Persian runner that led all the way to the turntable. Everything about this man seemed ordinary – his coat, his hair, even his ears – as if he had been deliberately assembled so that no one would look at him twice. Head bowed, he crept past the counter to his right, where Maud stood with Father Anthony and Kit, and behind them all the records stored in cardboard master bags.
He passed the old wooden shelving to his left, the door that led up to Frank’s flat, the central table, and all the plastic crates piled with surplus stock. Not even a sideways glance at the patchwork of album sleeves and homemade posters thumbtacked by Kit all over the walls. At the turntable, he stopped and pulled out a handkerchief. His eyes were red dots.
     ‘Are you all right?’ Frank asked, in his boom of a voice. ‘How can I help you today?’
     ‘The thing is, you see, I only like Chopin.’
     Frank remembered now. This man had come in a few months ago. He had been looking for something to calm his nerves before his wedding.
     ‘You bought the Nocturnes,’ he said.
     The man wriggled his mouth. He didn’t seem used to the idea that anyone would remember him. ‘I’ve got myself in another spot of difficulty. I wondered if you might – find something else for me?’ He had missed a patch on his chin when he was shaving. There was some­thing lonesome about it, that scratchy patch of stubble, all on its own.
     So Frank smiled because he always smiled when a customer asked for help. He asked the same questions he always asked. Did the man know what he was looking for? (Yes. Chopin.) Had he heard anything else that he liked? (Yes. Chopin.) Could he hum it? (No. He didn’t think he could.)
     The man shot a look over his shoulder to make sure no one was listening but they weren’t. Over the years, they’d seen everything in the music shop. There were the regular customers, of course, who came to find new records, but often people wanted something more. Frank had helped them through illness, grief, loss of confidence and jobs, as well as the more everyday 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. As a boy, he could stand for hours with a piece of bread in his hand, hoping for a bird.
     But the man was gazing at Frank. He was waiting.
     ‘You just want me to find you the right record? You don’t know what, but so long as it’s Chopin, you’ll be OK?’
     ‘Yes, yes,’ said the man. That was it exactly.
     So what did he need? Frank pushed away his fringe – it flopped straight back, but there it was, the thing had a life of its own – he cupped his chin in his hands and he listened as if he were trying to find a radio signal in the ether. Something beautiful? Something slow? He barely moved, he just listened.
     But when it came, it was such a blast, it took Frank’s breath away. Of course. What this man needed wasn’t Chopin. It wasn’t even a nocturne. What he needed was—
     ‘Wait!’ Frank was already on his feet.
     He lumbered around the shop, tugging out album sleeves, skirting past Kit, and ducking his head to dodge a light fitting. He just needed to find the right match for the music he had heard from the man who only liked Chopin. Piano, yes. He could hear piano. But the man needed something else as well. Something that was both tender and huge. Where would Frank find that? Beethoven? No, that would be too much. Beethoven might just floor a man like this one. What he needed was a good friend.
     ‘Can I help you, Frank?’ asked Kit. Actually he said ‘Ca’ I hel’?’ because his eighteen-year-old mouth was full of chocolate biscuit. Kit wasn’t simple or even backward, as people sometimes suggested, he was just gauche and wildly overenthusiastic, raised in a small suburban house by a mother with dementia and a father who mainly watched television. Frank had grown fond of Kit in the last few years, in the way that he had once cared for his broken van and his mother’s record player. He found that if you treated him like a young terrier, sending him out for regular walks and occupying him with easy tasks, he was less liable to cause serious damage.
     But what was the music he was looking for? What was it?
     Frank wanted a song that would arrive like a little raft and carry this man safely home.
     Piano. Yes. Brass? That could work. A voice? Maybe. Something powerful and passionate that could sound both complicated and yet so simple it was obvious—
     That was it. He got it. He knew what the man needed. He swung behind the counter and pulled out the right record. But when he rushed back to his turntable, mumbling, ‘Side two, track five. This is it. Yes, this is the one!’ the man gave a sigh that was almost a sob it was so desperate.
     ‘No, no. Who’s this? Aretha Franklin?’
     ‘“Oh No Not My Baby. This is it. This is the song.’
     ‘But I told you. I want Chopin. Pop isn’t going to help.’
     ‘Aretha is soul. You can’t argue with Aretha.’
     ‘Spirit in the Dark? No, no. I don’t want this record. It’s not what I came for.’
     Frank looked down from his great height, while the man twisted and twisted his handkerchief. ‘I know it’s not what you want, but trust me, today it’s what you need. What have you got to lose?’
     The man sent one last look in the direction of the door. Father Anthony gave a sympathetic shrug, as if to say, Why not? We’ve all been there. ‘Go on, then,’ said the man who only liked Chopin.
     Kit sprang forward and led him to a listening booth, not exactly holding his hand, but leading the way with outstretched arms as if parts of the man were in danger of dropping off at any moment. Light bloomed from the lava lamps in shifting patterns of pink and apple-green and gold. The booths were nothing like the ones in Woolworths – those were more like standing up in a hairdryer. Their headphones were so greasy, Maud said, you had to shower afterwards. No, these booths Frank had made himself from a pair of matching Victorian wardrobes of incredible magnitude he had spotted in a skip. He had sawn off the feet, removed the hanging rails and sets of drawers, and drilled small holes to connect each one with cable to his turntable. Frank had found two armchairs, small enough to fit inside, but comfortable. He had even polished the wood until it gleamed like black gloss paint, revealing a delicate inlay in the doors of mother-of-pearl birds and flowers. The booths were beautiful when you really looked.
     The man stepped in and made a sideways shuffle – there was very little space; he was being asked to sit in a piece of bedroom furniture, after all – and took his place. Frank helped with the headphones and shut the door.
     ‘Are you all right in there?’
     ‘This won’t work,’ the man called back. ‘I only like Chopin.’
     At his turntable, Frank eased the record from its sleeve and lifted the stylus. Tick, tick went the needle, riding the grooves. He flicked the speaker switch so that it would play through the whole shop. Tick, tick—
     Vinyl had a life of its own. All you could do was wait. 
 even when it was painful.
Publisher: Bond Street Books