Frog Music, Emma Donoghue’s latest novel, is a delightful, tragic, and hilarious journey through 1870s California. Jumping between the months of August and September 1876, Donoghue weaves a tale of four French émigrés trying to survive in a rapidly growing San Francisco suffering from a simultaneous heat wave and smallpox epidemic.
Readers familiar with Donoghue’s 2010 book, Room, might be surprised with this work of historical fiction. Frog Music represents a thematic return to Donoghue’s earlier books, such as Life Mask, Astray, and Slammerkin – including questions of independence, female sexuality, and same sex attraction. As in many of her novels, Donoghue uses historical fiction to discuss the lives and experiences of women outside the realm of perceived propriety.
Frog Music opens with a murder. Jenny Bonnet, an “eccentric” young woman who catches frogs for a living, is shot dead in a roadhouse just outside of the city. Her friend and companion, Blanche Beunon, goes on to chronicle her brief friendship with Bonnet and her search for the murderer. Beunon, a burlesque dancer known to admirers as “The Lively Flea,” is a compelling narrator as she records a life of domestic abuse, forced prostitution, and baby farming.
With Frog Music, Emma Donoghue gives us historical fiction as it should be – fun, inventive, and entirely believable. Extensive research of Bonnet’s real-life murder in 1876 and details such as the lyrics for historic burlesque songs enriches this enthralling murder mystery. Frog Music is a must-read for any fans of historical fiction!
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended