Frog Music

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue - 368 pages
Advanced Reading Copy
Book Blurb:
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heatwave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman called Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.
The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first.
The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.
In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.
My Review: 4 stars
Whether Emma Donoghue takes on historical novels like Slammerkin or contemporary thrillers like Room, she is one skilled author. Once again she proves herself in Frog Music. I’ll be honest that it took me a good hundred pages to get into this story; there was a lot going on that didn’t add up and my connection to the characters waned. But suddenly, as with all good authors, the pieces began to fit, the mystery unfolded and the flashbacks were oh so necessary to believe in the characters. This book is based on a historically unsolved murder and the author did an excellent job of spinning the case to solve it with fiction. The main protagonist, Blanche, is a damaged character who finds her first friend, uses her body as her livelihood and struggles with unconditional love of a child. She is a complicated character and I loved every bit of her. Her french used throughout the book was fanciful and she had a wonderfully raunchy sensibility. Her counterpart, cross-dressing friend Jenny, was mysterious, outrageous for her time period and deeply broken on the inside. So much of what she did, as the frog catcher, was a perfect mirror for her charming personality and her puzzling past.
Quotes I liked:
- “The whiskey is harsh in her throat: just right. As the fellow says, quips Jenny in her head, sometimes too much to drink is barely enough.”
- “You frog whore, that’s what Ellen have liked to call Blanch, no doubt, except that the woman probably couldn’t pronounce such a word because the Irish are the prudes of Europe. (Always have more children than they can feed, then go round crossing themselves as if the don’t know  what fucking is.)”

- “Then a convulsive cough, and Blanche feels such pity that she presses him to her. Registers a surge of warmth against bodice. Love, she thinks in shock, love flaring up between herself and this sobbing baby, love so hot she can feel it on her skin. then the heat dies away and she realizes what it is: he’s pissed on her.”

- “This is why women don’t start wars, she thinks with a flash of contempt for her whole sex. It’s the blasted babies.”

- “She’s out on the landing and thundering down the stairs, pressing her boy to her. she feels that surge of warmth and this time she remembers what it means; not love but piss. Or the love that’s mixed with piss and can’t be separated from it.”

Tags: 2014, Historical Fiction, Mystery, San Francisco

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