I’ve read Room and loved it so was really looking forward to reading the ‘new’ (well, released at the beginning of this year anyway!) novel by Emma Donoghue, Frog Music.
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 named 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.
Frog Music focuses on protagonist Blanche Beunon and her friend Jenny Bonnet, who is shot dead at the beginning of the novel in what Blanche feels is an attack meant for her.
I was impressed with the sense of atmosphere Donoghue creates which is really evokes a sense of 19th century San Francisco, its people and buildings. The story takes the reader into Blanche’s world of burlesque and prostitution as well as Jenny’s life of theft and her shocking habit of – shock horror! – cross dressing, as well as many other elements that are touched upon. In fact, there are so many different elements that at times it seemed a little jumbled, as if the author was just trying to cram as much information in as possible!
The story itself is quite original but seemed to ebb and flow in terms of its appeal for me – at some points it really drew me in and I wanted to know more whilst at other points I really couldn’t care less. Part of this might be attributed to the fact that, in my opinion, the characters are all pretty unpleasant and unlikable. Most share a strong selfish streak and the main protagonist, Blanche, is also vain, self-centred and snobby, as is her ‘lover’ Arthur and his close friend Ernest. Jenny is the only semi-likeable character in the novel but she’s dead for a significant portion of the novel!
Narrated entirely by Blanche, her story jumps back and forth between two simultaneous timelines, one showing events leading up to the shooting and one following Blanche as she deals with the aftermath of the murder. I usually enjoy novels of this structure but I have to say that in Frog Music I got a little bored- the beginning was quite interesting and I felt myself drawn into the background of the book, and the end was also quite eventful, but the middle section just dragged on a bit. However the end of the story had quite a good conclusion and I enjoyed finally
This is certainly a different story and would have been really enjoyable if there had just been a bit more going on through the middle part. But I still enjoyed the beginning and end!