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Book Nook - 12-02-2018

Monday, February 12, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Bitter-Sweet Love Story
Rachel Joyce, who made her writing debut with the bestselling The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, has written another heart-breaker, The Music Shop.

This book is also about love, friendship, loyalty, compassion; added to it is the healing power of music.  Her fourth novel begins in 1988, when a dishevelled giant of a man, Frank, sets up his music shop, selling vinyl records.  He had grown up with an eccentric mother, who taught him all there is to know about music. So, Frank knows just which piece of music will help a troubled customer.

Frank’s shop with its piled of records piled up in no particular order, is located in London’s Unity Street, where a motley group of neighbors and fellow business owners are trying to keep away the grubby hands of a developer.

There is Maud the tattooist, who is in love with Frank but cannot bring herself to tell him, Father Anthony, the recovered alcoholic who sells religious iconography, Novak the baker and the undertakers, the Williams brothers. And there’s the slightly odd Kit, a young man who helps Frank in the shop, and becomes a catalyst for the joy and sorrow that befalls his kindly employer.

Despite the pressure from music companies, Frank refuses to see CDs, even it means dwindling sales. And he won’t budge from the shop, no matter what threats and temptations the developer offers.

One day, a woman in a green coat, faints outside the shop. She turns out to be a mysterious German called Ilse Brauchmann, who brings about a transformation in the lonely Frank. Ilse asks him to give her lessons in music, and as he takes her through his favourite records, a hesitant kind of unspoken romance grows, watched over by the sullen waitress at the Singing Teapot, where they meet every week.

As the reader follows the various strands of the story, there is the discovery of music and Frank’s passion for it—there are stories about composers and musicians from Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington and Sex Pistols to Beethoven, Vivaldi and Purcell. Frank’s mother has told him, “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.” It is these silences the emotions of the characters seem to fall into.

The prose is simple, poignant, often over-sentimental but never maudlin. Joyce makes the reader care about the characters, but does not promise them a conventional happily-ever-after. Still, it offers hope and optimism even in the depths of despair.

There is also a wonderful playlist, so readers can listen to all the music Frank talks about and discover the soul-stirring beauty and silences for themselves.

The Music Shop
By Rachel Joyce
Published by: Doubleday
Pages: 336

 

Excerpt of The Music Shop
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?’

 

ALSO RECEIVED
Readers looking for an old-style action adventure, bestselling author Wilbur Smith delivers it all in The Tiger’s Prey.  Says the synopsis, “The New York Times bestselling author of Desert God and Pharaoh adds another chapter to his popular historical saga featuring the seafaring Tom Courtney, the hero of Monsoon and Blue Horizon, with this magnificent swashbuckling saga set in the eighteenth century and packed with action, violence, romance, and rousing adventure.

“Tom Courtney, one of four sons of master mariner Sir Hal Courtney, once again sets sail on a treacherous journey that will take him across the vast reaches of the ocean and pit him against dangerous enemies in exotic destinations. But just as the winds propel his sails, passion drives his heart. Turning his ship towards the unknown, Tom Courtney will ultimately find his destiny—and lay the future for the Courtney family.

“Wilbur Smith, the world’s greatest storyteller, once again recreates all the drama, uncertainty, and courage of a bygone era in this thrilling saga of the sea.”

The Tiger’s Prey
By Wilbur Smith & Tom Harper
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 432


Hot of the press is Aam Aadmi insider Mayank Gandhi’s book on the rise and slide of the party. According to the summary,  “The story of AAP is one of troughs and crests. After capturing the imagination of over a billion Indians, and winning a landslide victory in the 2015 Delhi elections, a seemingly indestructible party began to dangerously teeter. What just happened? How did a party—born of the idealistic India Against Corruption (IAC) movement—get ravaged by infighting and accusations of wrongdoing? What provoked the abrupt ouster of two party veterans, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan? What accounted for the wave of ignoble defeats across not just Punjab and Goa but also AAP’s own home, Delhi?

“Here is a book that reveals all—from the clashes and intrigues that beset the IAC movement to the goings-on during the closed-door meetings of AAP. But beyond chronicling events, thus far undisclosed, AAP & Down analyzes the dispositions of the leaders who had once promised a better India—from a volatile Anna Hazare to an autocratic Arvind Kejriwal—to highlight how the party’s undoing was linked to the fatal flaws of its leading men.

“This book gives in-depth insights into the minds of leaders who managed to capture people’s attention and imagination since their arrival.”

AAP And Down: An Insider’s Story Of India’s Most Controversial Party
By Mayank Gandhi With Shrey Shah
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Pages: 291

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