Cover Image: When the Music Stops

When the Music Stops

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Member Reviews

What a lovely original, unusual and charming book. This is the story of one woman’s life told via those she has lost. It’s not macabre but sweet and gentle. I loved it and all the characters within it. Thoroughly recommend
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While Rules of Seeing was an original slant on a psychological thriller this book is far more of a mystical experience. It is, at heart, the story of two people who meet, part, love and, above all, make music but it is framed by one woman's experiences on a yacht, floundering in a storm near Greece. As her aging body and mind begin to fail her she relives episodes from her past. These range from her childhood in Glasgow, to a career as a professional musician and involve key people from her life. As each episode passes the woman, Ella, finds that she is now accompanied by the person involved. This makes the story strange and magical, while still being rooted in the reality of Ella's experiences both past and present.
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A beautifully told story of Robert and Ella following them from Glasgow in the 1940s to London in the 1960s and beyond. This is a beautiful book about love and loss and what connects us. It is written with great love and empathy for the characters. Recommended.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital ARC.
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This was a lovely read all about love and friendship. A really uplifting story. I loved the journey and definitely recommend.
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This book.  This book...  Guys, this book is a real gem.

This is the story of Ella and Robert, whose lives began on the same Glasgow Street and which are intertwined through both loss and music through the decades.  Structured around the seven modes in which music has been arranged since ancient times, this story takes us from present-day Ella - elderly and stranded in a perilous situation - back to pivotal points in her life where Robert and a cast of other wonderful characters played defining roles.  

This book blends shades of One Day and The Five People You Meet in Heaven with ghosts, music and a building sense of tragic tension to create something totally unique..  From Glasgow during WW2 to the London beatnik scene, recording studios to a burns unit, bedsits to a luxury cruiser, we visit Ella in every stage of her life.  And carrying us through is Heap's simple yet gorgeous prose, with a touch of whimsy to stop this book ever being dark or bleak.  And of course, there is the music.  Almost a character itself, its power hums through the pages. I really appreciated how the importance of music in dementia patients is really core to this book, and linked it all together.  

I adored this story, and will definitely be adding Joe Heap to my auto-buy authors!
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I really enjoyed this book. It's a story that reflects back on key moments and important people of an old lady's life. I was so sad to come to the end and wish there had been more pages. I have recommended this book to so many people, who have also loved it.
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For me I found When The Music Stops a beautiful, poignant surprise. When I was approached to read and review this new novel from award winning novelist Joe Heap, from its description I guessed I would really like it. However I underestimated the subtle emotional depth and beauty of the narrative that is so skilfully enhanced by its structure. I also underestimated the impact it would have on me.

When The Music Stops is the story of Ella who has known Robert since childhood. Sensitively told through snapshots of Ella’s life it portrays these two characters as ‘people whose lives are so tangled up. Like two trees that grew too close together and their roots got all...’. The metaphor is symbolically never finished.

Spanning decades from pre-World War Two to London during the swinging sixties and beyond, Ella and Robert’s story starts in Glasgow. I’m from just outside Glasgow and I have to say that I absolutely love Joe Heap’s portrayal of a Glaswegian childhood. Even though Ella is almost 50 years older than me, there are elements of Ella’s childhood that really resonate with me. For example I felt so nostalgic when Robert gave Ella a block of tablet. Tablet is a part of almost every Scottish childhood as relatives make it for you and friends of relatives make it for you and so on. It also made me smile as Ella’s mum made tablet just like my mum.

However as Ella’s story progressed, it took me in an emotional direction I never expected. And Ella as a character really surprised me – as well as the story, she also went in a direction I never expected. I’m not going to lie – Ella shocked me. I didn’t like it but I admired her for it.

When The Music Stops is about the relationship of two people throughout the course of their life; but it is so much more than Ella and Robert’s tangled relationship. It is also a beautiful and hopeful portrayal of death, grief and survival. Yes it is a story of lost love but paradoxically it is also a celebration of life. This had a profound impact on me and I found it extremely comforting.

Thank you Joe Heap for writing such a subtle yet powerful and truly beautiful novel. I also feel the need to comment once again on the structure of this novel as it is so clever. In my view it really helped drive the emotional depth of Ella story. However I would of also have loved to read the same story from Robert’s point of view. He is a character that makes me so curious.

Thank you also Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to read and review When The Music Stops as part of its blog tour.

When The Music Stops was published by HarperCollins on Thursday 29th October 2020. It is a truly beautiful read that will take you away from the stresses of lockdown living; as I feel this is something we all need at the moment I urge you to read this book.
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I received a copy of the book from Netgalley to review. Thank you for the opportunity.
A great story. I loved the musical links and the writing is good. It is unusual and different from the usual. The characters are fascinating and well crafted. The story draws the reader in quickly and doesn't let go.
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Beautiful, poignant and incredibly moving - a really beautiful book that captures love and loss in their purest forms
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A poignant, moving and highly enjoyable story that moved me and kept me hooked.
I loved the storytelling, how the music mixes with the storyline and the great characters.
It's the first book I read by this author and won't surely be the last.
Strongly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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This was a really lovely read.  Watching the characters develop over the years and the bond they had was truly magical.  The flashbacks using music and the characters appearing on the boat was such an inspired idea.  Highly recommended.
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This was such a unique and touching story, that I'm still thinking of Ella and her life right now, many days after I'd finished the book! I loved the distinctive way in which the story is told and how it helps you connect with Ella and the experiences she had in her lifetime.

From the traumatic opening, the story never lets up on emotion and drama. You get the frustrations and despair that Ella is feeling now in her current situation where she is on a boat which is starting to sink, and has to look our for her grandchild, the grandchild she can't remember the name of because she is showing signs of dementia. In her toughest times she is 'visited' by the memories of those in her past that meant so much to her and shaped her life from childhood to adulthood.

As she looks back, she is reminded of those who had such an impact on her life and these flashbacks to key moments in her life just went to show how different events changed the course of her life. The 'what if' moments, the missed opportunites, the quirks of fate that drew different people into her life at testing times. Something we all experience but it's not often til later in life that we truly see how important, or not!, an encounter or experience is.

I loved how it really showed that just when you think life is going to go one way, then there's often a curveball to change the trajectory of things. As she moves away and moves to London to become a session musician, then her life sees her making some bad choices and you fear the worst for her, but the world works in mysterious ways and the past always finds a way of reminding her of what is important to her.

Her life is full of many highs, and many lows and it was such an emotional experience to relive crucial moments and episodes in her life, added to the drama of what she is experiencing in the present and I have to admit, there were tears! Many tears!! It's a story you just get so involved in and seems to remind you to take note of those people who keep appearing in your own story at difficult times.

A staggeringly inventive and emotional read!
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Joe Heap presents the life well lived of Ella Campbell in an innovatively structured novel. Ella is a talented musician who has lived an interesting life. Now an old lady in a crisis situation she is helped to cope by reflecting on her life through seven songs and the significant characters in her life that she associates with them. I would recommend this heartfelt touching read.
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This book delivered everything I had been promised, it was beautiful. It tells the story of Ella an elderly grandmother who finds herself alone on a boat with her baby grandson after a storm. The story gracefully jumps between her urgent fight for survival and the life she had up until that point from being a young girl in Scotland, a musician in London, a wife and a mother all exquisitely held together by the power of music. 

This is a story about love and loss, hope and survival. I particularly loved that this story was inspired by the author’s grandparents and you can feel the emotion and pride shining through his writing. 

Simply heartbreakingly stunning ❤️ 

This is the story of Ella. 
And Robert. 
And of all the things they should have said, but never did.

Through seven key moments and seven key people their journey intertwines.
From the streets of Glasgow during WW2 to the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll of London in the 60s and beyond, this is a story of love and near misses. Of those who come in to our lives and leave it too soon. And of those who stay with you forever…

Thank you so much to @NetGalley and @harpercollinsuk for approving me this copy. This book is out now.
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When the Music Stops by Joe Heap is a beautifully written and emotional tale that once started I did not want to put down. A unique and rather wonderful story that follows the lives of Ella and Robert, from their childhood on the streets of Glasgow during World War 2 through to the swinging sixties and beyond.

Through seven key moments, Ella’s life intertwines with Robert’s as well as other key people, with music as a backdrop to their story as time marches on. Ella’s life is explored in great detail, the important moments brought vividly to life as we move seamlessly between timelines. As the story continues we begin to get to know Ella as a person, living alongside her through her ups and downs, the dark moments and the light.

In the present day Ella is in her eighties, caught up in a world she no longer understands. The chapters set in the present were the hardest to read as age begins to take its toll on the once vibrant person she used to be. I didn’t always like Ella or the choices she made throughout her life, but I did come to understand her and loved the time I spent getting to know her within the pages of this book.

When the Music Stops was inspired by the story of the author’s own grandparents and he has done them proud with this beautifully written exploration of love, loss and the importance of holding on to the memories we have of those who have touched our lives. The use of music throughout the book is inspired and really helped bring the story alive for me.

Joe Heap has written a unique and rather wonderful story, filled with a cast of flawed but fascinating characters I couldn’t help but fall in love with. A beautiful and highly emotional story that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
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This was one of those novels that came as a complete surprise. I had no idea what to expect as I’d never read Joe Heap’s work before, but what started out adagio builds to an absolute crescendo of emotion and I shed tears over Ella’s story. Through two time frames we meet Ella as an old lady shipwrecked on a yacht called Mnemosyne with a small baby. She’s struggling physically and seems forgetful, whether through injury or age we don’t know at first. Then we are taken back to different points in her life, significant moments with specific people. Whether with her for a short or long time, these are people she has lost and that loss had a massive impact on her life. We first meet Ella when she’s a little girl, living in a Glasgow tenement and spending time between her home and that of her friend Rene. Rene has a beautiful guitar, made for her by her father and Ella is quite jealous of it, wishing she had a father who could make such things. One evening, after school Ella wants to avoid going home and keeps Rene out in the cold on a local playground. Rene has asthma. The next morning, when Ella wakes she senses something wrong and when she goes into the main room where her parents are up and making breakfast she sees Rene’s guitar and knows immediately. Her friend is gone. 

This loss when she is so young, sets in motion events that will resonate throughout her life. First, it brings her into contact with Rene’s brother Robert who is a few years older. He brings her a parcel and she expects something terrible, some retribution or punishment for what she sees as her culpability in his sister’s death. What she opens is a block of ‘tablet’ a Scottish fudge-like sweet made by their mother with sugar and condensed milk. This gift cements their friendship, one which will last their entire lives. Secondly, after vowing never to look at Rene’s guitar she decides to learn and her father takes her to a music shop for a beginner’s guitar book. Yet Ella is drawn to something different. She picks up a book of seven guitar exercises featuring songs that encompass stages of life, from the child to the crone. Called The Songs of the Dead, the shop owner is unsure whether it’s suitable for a child but Ella is sure. It is each of these exercises that separates the sections of the book. The structure is incredibly well done, it feels natural and organic rather than a forced device. 

Each section comprises the song, the memory and then Ella’s present situation with an unusual element - each person she has lost returns from the past with her. It is never explained whether this is a supernatural element, whether Ella is hallucinating these characters or whether they’re a way of expressing how she remembers these people’s contribution to her life. Each one brings something to the present whether it is the mechanical expertise wanted to pump out the water in the hold, or a philosophical context to Ella’s experience. I loved how her friend Sandy describes life, death and time using the vinyl record as inspiration. He believes that we all still exist in time, even after death. In the same way other music tracks exist on a record, even while we’re playing a different one. The other tracks are always there, we have the memory of playing them, or anticipate hearing them again. They’re not wiped the moment a needle leaves the groove. There’s also the concept of two types of time; the time measured by clocks, work hours and timetables and a different kind of internal time. It’s something I discovered through meditation, but we all experience it from time flying when we’re having fun or the feel that summer holidays used to last forever when we were children. Time seems to speed up as we get older, it barely seems like we’ve got one Christmas over before another is round the corner. As adults we need to find positive ways to slow down our internal time such as mindfulness. For Ella, time is coming full circle, and she’s slowly revisiting each life that touched hers either for a moment or for a lifetime. Each character is so fully realised. I loved Lester, a one time lover of Ella’s who helps her cope with the baby when he’s ill. I found Mai, a young woman who met Ella briefly in the labour ward as they both gave birth to their children. In finding each other again Ella can fill in the gaps in Mai’s knowledge and reacquaint her with a son she never knew. In return Mai can help Ella face a loss she hadn’t fully apprehended. Each person’s story is so emotional and so real. I love that the author doesn’t judge any of the characters we meet, even where their influence on Ella isn’t always a positive one. We see them as fully rounded people and with such fondness, possibly because we’re seeing them through Ella’s lens and her love for them shines through. 

The settings are also vivid. I throughly enjoyed Ella’s period in London, playing as a session guitarist and sharing a flat with Robert. Musicians come and go, and the flat is a whirlwind of jam sessions and parties. The 1960s were equally exciting as Ella becomes very sought after and chance finds her playing on tracks with some famous names. Of course the party can’t last and not all Ella’s experiences are happy ones, but she learns from each one. Her time as a nurse in a burns unit was also well drawn and as anyone who cares for others knows, there are patients who will remember what you did for them and others who get under your skin and stay with you forever. Like every life there are moments of bliss, excitement and love. Similarly there are moments of grief, dislocation and despair. All the time Robert is there, repeating like a musical refrain, rippling quietly under the surface of the music or occasionally becoming the main melody. We all have those people who come and go, who don’t always figure in our everyday lives, but who are constantly there. There were so many points where I thought of my own life. I thought of my friend Elliot who I was close with through school, and after university, and who I see intermittently but think of constantly. My friend Nigel who died only a couple of years ago, we were only friends for a few years but he taught me so much, made me laugh and simply let me sit in his house and relax when I was a full time carer and desperately needed an escape. I am one of those people who fall in love with people I meet regardless of age, gender or situation in life. So, when I’ve worked in care there have been patients who have stayed with me forever, especially a little 90 year old lady called Mary who could sit on her own hair. I would go in on my days off and wash and dry it for her and she often used to sneak up and put her little hand in mine and follow me about while I made beds and doled out biscuits. I’ve often wondered when my time comes who would come to meet me. For anyone who has lost someone this story is especially poignant, but somehow it manages to stop short of sentimentality. Instead it feels profound, honest and raw and left me with such a beautiful bittersweet afterglow.
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When the Music Stops is lovely, it just is. The story goes through Ella’s past and present, and takes us to meet a lot of people who meant a lot to her at different points in her life. It starts with Ella on a boat with family, and we soon realise she is old and it seems like she has dementia. The boat sails into a storm, and water starts sweeping into the rooms. Ella gets hurt, and can’t find her daughter, but her baby grandson is there, so she needs to help him. Then we float to different parts of her life. We learn her childhood best friend Ruth is the reason we loves the Guitar, and that also plays a huge part in the story. After each chapter is a sheet of music from from a songbook Ella picks up as a child in a shop. Each song fits in with each chapter, and I loved this part of it. I do wonder if the music has been recorded anywhere, it would be interesting to listen to. 

The characters throughout the story are really interesting, and I did like Robert quite a bit. He cares a lot for Ella, and it shows as he pops back into her life at difficult times. Ella goes though a lot of hard times, and it was interesting to see the different routes life took her down, from drugs and rock and roll, to being a nurse. But music is always there in the background throughout, and tha gives the story something different.
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I adored When The Music Stops, it was exactly what I needed to recuperate after an operation. The characters were the highlight, Ella the shining star, from the little girl who had to deal with grief, the aftermath of war to the grandma who looked back on her life and the people she met along the way.

And what an unusual setting Heap chose for eighty seven year old Ella’s journey back in time, a last holiday, a boat on stormy sea’s, a baby to keep safe and most importantly to love.

It was that love for the baby that took Ella back to pre war Glasgow to her best friend Rene, and Rene’s brother Robert, the one constant in Ella’s life. Their shared love of music bound them together, yet you knew there was more, an unsaid love that never quite emerged. Heap dangled the will they or they won’t they before us, but instead Heap kept them apart, as other loves, and people stepped in the way. We read as Ella, swayed between jobs, between bank, post office before London beckoned and she found herself tangled in its musical backstreets, in the underground cafes and the wonderfully colourful people that came along with it.

I loved how Heap managed to capture the feel of the era, of the smoky venues, of the hedonist lifestyle Ella found herself wrapped up in before the wheels fell of and Heap lept forward to a very different Ella and a very different job and finally up to the present. Each leap was almost like another reinvention of Ella, of maturity, of making do, of a fleeting reconnection with Robert, of wondering if this could finally be the time that they would be together. I think this is what kept me furiously turning the pages, that need and want for them to have that happy ending.

In between the memories we were taken forward to the present to Ella on the boat, to the water that swished throughout, to the baby who somehow energised Ella to steer the boat to dry land and safety. Each look back brought a new person to the present, until Ella had her own crew, a crew that helped her steer the boat, that reminisced alongside her, that uncovered her all abiding love of music and its power to heal.

In the hands of many authors this may have felt clunky, out of place, too far fetched, but for me it was the right thing for Heap to have done. It was ethereal, emotional, and the latter parts had me in absolute bits, but in a good way, in that you knew Ella had found some sort of closure and peace with those she had shared her life with and most importantly herself.
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In simple terms I adored this book! It follows the lives of Ella and Robert from their birth place of Glasgow, living in London and then finally into suburbia and family life. It’s a tale of missed opportunities and adventure, love and loss, hope and despair. It’s structure is just music itself and it definitely strikes a chord in my heart. 

I don’t think I have ever seen a book structured in this way before. Ella buys a score of songs when she is first learning to play the guitar and each of those songs relates to a section of the book with the song printed at the start of it. I wish I still could read music as well as I used to as I’m sure the songs would be beautiful and haunting especially when you relate it to the narrative. 

I think ‘When The Music Stops’ grabbed me so much was due to the characters lives beginning in Glasgow. I could recognise so much of my home city and I could visualise scenes like those set in the docks vividly. It captures the essence of Glasgow in the 1950’s and I could even recognise my grandad back from the war and visually altered to those he loved. Ella and Robert would have been the same generation as my Mum and I remember her stories of being discriminated against in the workplace due to her gender, just like Ella. So much of this section of the book resonates with me and it grabbed and hooked me in so much so that I read the book in one sitting! 

I loved how Ella and Robert’s stories intertwined with one another - they would connect and then disconnect, connect and then disconnect, an ever revolving door. There are just some relationships like this - never meant to be, or are they? Does timing work out for them? Well for that you will need to read the book which is something I completely encourage you to do. An easy 5⭐️ review from me!
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When The Music Stops has to be one of the most unique books I have read! It’s beautifully written and highly emotional which makes it a very compelling read.

There’s something very interesting about following one person throughout their life, especially if they have lived through some significant historical events. I found it fascinating to follow Ella and to see how certain things have shaped her life. That being said I never really warmed to Ella as a character as I found her to be very prickly and some of her decisions incredibly questionable. I did feel sympathetic towards her however and although I didn’t agree with her choices I had to admire her bravery.

The story is told in two timelines one following Ella through the important events her life, while the other focuses on elderly Ella who is trapped in a sinking boat with a baby. While she is trying to work out what’s happening and care for the baby she is visited by old friends who help her make amends for past mistakes. I have to admit I enjoyed the flash backs to Ella’s life much more then the present day as I found it quite stressful reading about Ella trying to care for the baby. It was a weird situation as I wanted to keep reading to see what happens to them but at the same time wanting to skip that part as I found the tension too great.

Overall I really enjoyed this absorbing and intriguing read which will definitely stay with me. I think I went through every emotion as I read, laughing and crying alongside the characters. I will be recommending this book to everyone and will definitely be buying a few copies as Christmas presents.

Huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour and to Harper Collins for my copy of this book via Netgalley.
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