Monday, January 15, 2018

Dear Steven Hartley, narrator of The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Dear Steven Hartley,

I listened to most of The Music Shop on flights from Des Moines, Iowa to Bangkok, Thailand (with stops in Chicago and at both Tokyo airport.) I don't like to fly, but I do love to travel, and flying is part of that reality. To help distract me from the fact that I'm flying, I like to pick books to transport me to a different place, and your narration made me feel like I was on Unity Street in the 1980's.

I decided to read The Music Shop when it was named a January Book of the Month pick. This year, I'm aiming to read all 60 Book of the Month picks, and to do that, I know I'll need to listen to one each month. I was quite intrigued when I saw The Music Shop was your first audiobook. After listening, I'm surprised, but I'm confident it won't be your last. The Music Shop is told from the point of view of Frank, a curmudgeonly, but loveable man who is passionate about music and vinyl (only vinyl.) Your performance made Frank come alive for me. He isn't a character I would have been drawn to. In fact, if I read this novel instead of listened to you read it, I think I would have wished even more for multiple narrators. I longed to get inside the heads of the other cast of characters more. As a reader, I'm drawn to books about unlikely people forming strong bonds and becoming a sort of family, and The Music Shop's Unity Street does exactly that for its characters.

As I listened, I kept thinking that I enjoyed this book more because I was listening. First, I loved your choices of when to sing or hum to help people who may not know all of the music referenced. It was helpful both to make me feel like I was in the story, where the characters were hearing it, but it also gave the story itself more depth. Your music-infused performance was particularly wonderful during the Hallelujah chorus, where I imagine if I were reading, my eyes would have begun to skim past all of the Hallelujahs, but you forced me to listen to them and feel them.

When I read Rachel Joyce's first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I said "At times I felt dismissive of this novel as 'charming' or 'quaint', and while it is both of those things, Joyce's writing elevates this novel. She is a writer to watch." I feel much the same way about The Music Shop. It is cute and sweet and charming and quaint. It's also deftly plotted. As each reveal was made, I found myself thinking, "of course." None were surprises, but they were perfect for these characters and this story. Ultimately, I think it may have been too well plotted and well-planned out because it didn't feel as authentic as it should. It felt smartly convenient and enjoyable, but I like a bit more difficult and surprise in my books.

In closing, Steven, while I have some conflicting thoughts about the novel itself, I'm so glad I listened to your performance of it, for it truly was a performance. There are narrators whose performances I enjoy enough to listen to a book simply because they perform it. I'm astonished The Music Shop was your first audiobook, and I'll be keeping an eye on what you do next. Chances are, I'll be listening, not matter what it is. Thanks for transforming The Music Shop for me. I'll be recommending the audiobook to many.


Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 320 pages (8 hours 28 minutes)
Publication date: January 2, 2018
Source: purchased

Want to read for yourself? Buy The Music Shop from Amazon (Kindle edition.) Obviously, I recommend you listen to the audiobook.

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