Frog Music; Emma Donoghue
Little Brown Co - 2014
An 1876 unsolved San Francisco murder is the basis for Emma Donoghue's latest novel, Frog Music which is set in the same time period.
Jenny Bonnet is a 27-year-old French-born woman who makes money catching frogs and selling them to local SF restaurants. She dresses like a man and is a regular in the courts as a result of her dress code defiance. It is in the opening pages of the novel that Jenny is shot through the window of a boarding house, while Blanche Beunon, a burlesque dancer and prostitute, in the same room bends down to tie her shoes, making the reader wonder --- who was the real target?
Blanche, a lucrative woman, who has earned enough money to purchase a 6-story boarding house in SF's Chinatown, is convinced that she knows the men responsible for the shooting (Arthur her pimp of sorts and Ernest his associate). Furthermore, she believes that they meant to kill her, not Jenny. As she tries to convince investigators of the their guilt, Blanche fears not only for her own life but also for that of her infant son who has been taken away by Arthur and Ernest.
The novel is full of colorful characters that come alive on the pages. The story really demonstrates how badly women were treated during that time period, and the smallpox outbreak which hit the area in the midst of a heat wave only added to the tension that enveloped this novel. Jenny, a woman Blanche hadn't known very long, certainly made an impression on me. She was instrumental in getting Blanche to change he thinking about herself and the trajectory of her life.
I liked this book, but found the narrative a little confusing at times on audio. The story jumps around to timeframes both before and after the murder. I did better after switching to the print format. As I read I found myself much more interested in Blanche's character and how things would work out for her and her child, rather than trying to get to the bottom of the murder mystery. Blanche was an interesting character who I hoped would find her way.