Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave 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 boom town like no other.
Frog Music feels like a return to what Donoghue knows best; like she’s returning home after the Hollywood vacation that her best selling book Room took her on.
Despite being set a century later, and in San Francisco rather than London, Frog Music has a lot of similarities to her earlier novel, Slammerkin. The protagonist in this case is Blanche de Danseuse, an exotic dancer at The House of Mirrors who lives with her lover-cum-pimp Arthur and his pretty much shadow of a friend Ernest.
One night Blanche literally runs into Jenny, a larger-than-life character who rides a stolen bicycle and who refuses to wear ‘ladies’ clothes despite being continuously fined and jailed for wearing trousers.
Frog Music jumps from the fateful night in which Jenny is killed, back to the moment they met. Which sounds good in theory, but I like to be informed when timelines are shifting and this book didn’t do that. When starting a new chapter it took a while to figure out where in the story I was, which left me confused and annoyed at times.
However, Donoghue has such a beautiful, enticing, and musical way with words that Frog Music was satisfying to read even if I was unsure of what was going on with the plot. I was also kept interested by certain breadcrumbs of information, such as Blanche being so adamant that it was Arthur who killed Jenny, but meaning to get her instead. What happened between the time Jenny was welcomed into their bohemian, flirtatious friendship and the night she was killed?
I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Emma Donoghue, and this was no exception, but I was a little disappointed. My main issue, I think, was the character of Blanche. I wanted her to be bolder, more outrages but instead she was rather bland for a french bohemian exotic dancer and prostitute.
Disclosure?: I received a free copy from the publisher/author in exchange for an HONEST review.
Title: Frog Music
Author: Emma Donoghue
Details: Hardcover, 352 pages
Published: March 25th 2014 by HarperCollins
My Rating: 3/5