Emma Donoghue, Frog Music, (2014), 405p
I discovered Ms. Donoghue shortly after Room hit the shelves. My partner surprised me with the book for Christmas a few years ago. I LOVED Room. LOVED IT! Devoured it in a couple days, neglected-my-life-to-just-keep-reading-it type of loved it. Such a blindingly horrible situation laid out in beautiful prose told through the eyes of a child. Like many others, when I heard she was releasing her first novel since Room this year, I let out a squeal of excitement; then I immediately placed a hold on it from the library.
What I found with Frog Music was not what I was expecting. Donoghue takes us on a gritty, burlesque-filled ride through plague invested, heat wave ridden 1870’s San Francisco. Dancing, sex, murder, women in men’s clothes, forgotten babies, and frogs legs. (Something for everyone?) Frog Music told through two timelines: both before and after a brutal, cold blooded murder. It follows Blanche, a former Parisian equestrian turned leg dancer; Blanche’s lover, Arthur, and his partner, Ernest, both slimy, scheming, well-dressed French immigrants; and Jenny, a pant wearing, frog catching, bicycle riding American woman so far beyond her time.
Throughout most of the book, I honestly gave zero shits about Blanche. Yes, she worked hard (literally on her back), owned her entire apartment building, and supported her lovers – but I kind of hated her. She annoyed me. She was so self serving, vain, and pathetic. But, Jenny on the other hand, I loved. Quirky, brash, out place. She stole the show for me. Her blunt honesty, unabashed indignation, and comfort in her own skin made her one of my favourite characters to come from recent literature.
In the afterword, Donoghue reveals all of this is based on a real murder case and real people, which realistically led me to love Jenny even more. Donoghue did her research and even gives shout-outs to libraries and library staff which warms my little library assistant heart.
Overall I like this read. It’s so hard for me NOT to compare to an author’s previous work, especially when it holds such a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. As a stand alone story, it’s entertaining and thought provoking, but doesn’t hold a candle to Room.
Happy reading –