Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Frog Music; Emma Donoghue

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.

4/5 stars

13 comments:

  1. Interesting sounding historical mystery. I like to read about realistic characters.

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  2. I've been wondering about this one and am glad you ended up liking it, Diane. It sounds like print may be the better way to read this one.

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  3. I've wondered about this book, Diane. I liked Room but I'm not sure about this one. I'll put it on my list :)

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  4. Oh no, I have this one on audio.

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  5. I'd like to give this a try and was planning to listen, but maybe I should reconsider and read instead.

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  6. I had forgotten what this book was about. Now I remember why I had it on my list of books I was looking forward to. Glad to hear it delivers...in print!

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  7. This book sounds much more intriguing to me now. I am a big fan of colorful or eccentric characters. I'll be looking for this.

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  8. I'm reading this now and really enjoying it, but I can see how it might be more difficult to follow on audio!

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  9. I am one of the few on the planet that did not like Room but I picked this one up to give her another go. It has not been getting good reviews and a lot of bloggers end up ditching it. Sort of makes me less anxious to read it.

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  10. Another one I'm curious about!

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  11. Ok, I listened to the audio version and had the same problem with loosing the narrative thread. I wonder if I would have liked it more in print.

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  12. Ahh, I am very much looking forward to reading this book. I have it on reserve at the Library, but the wait-list for it is astronomical. She is a favorite author of mine and I just missed her the other day when she was in town doing a reading -- I had to work at the time.
    Rats!
    Slammerkin and Life Mask are my favorite books of hers. I have personally corresponded with Emma Donoghue, and she is so friendly. And so humble about her own genius.

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  13. Great review (I linked to it in my post)! I was also confused by the jumping back and forth, even though I was reading it on my e-reader. I can't imagine how confusing the audio must have been. I ended up liking the novel--I loved how Donoghue examined and embellished these real-life events--but I wish she had given us a more nuanced look at whether Blanche's "desires" (underpinning her employment) were just a coping mechanism related to the low social and economic status of women.

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