Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Blanche, her boyfriend Arthur and his best friend Ernest travelled from their French home to San Fransisco to seek a new life. The men’s careers as a high flying circus act were ended when Arthur fell badly and hurt his back. In San Francisco the men enjoy the dandy life of clothes, jewellery, gambling and smoking and Blanche pays for it all by dancing burlesque and selling herself to her richest admirers.
During the 1876 heatwave, she’s knocked down in the street by a woman dress as a man and riding a penny-farthing. She’s caught off guard by this unique woman who introduces herself as Jenny and although she should be infuriated at her attitude, she instantly warms to her. They return to Blanche’s home and Jenny asks a few simple questions that change her life forever.
A few weeks later Jenny and Blanche are staying on the outskirts of town, drinking, catching frogs and becoming closer than ever. But one night as Blanche bends over, a gunshot rings out over her head and Jenny is shot dead. But who could have done it, who knew where they were and who had the most to gain from this unique woman’s death? Blanche is desperate for the truth and as she tries to discover it, she realises that she hardly knew her best friend Jenny at all.
Based on true events, Frog Music is an interesting tale of friendship, murder, sex and parenthood. Both Blanche and Jenny are unusual female leads in very different ways. Blanche is a dancer and high-class prostitute, unashamedly addicted to sex and attention. When shocked and guilted into the care of her one-year-old son you also see her as a vulnerable woman, an unnatural mother but one who’s trying. Jenny’s a feisty and inquisitive woman, challenging the system by wearing ‘men’s’ clothes and going to prison for her beliefs. You warm to her instantly and the secrets Blanche reveal after her death are just heartbreaking. Meanwhile, the males in this novel are all gutless tyrants and waste men, feeding off women and letting them down in one way or another.
This may not be a fast paced, action packed story but there really is something about it that draws you in and keeps you reading for as long as possible. The fascinating period of time and colourful characters weave together superbly and a sprinkling of French language and traditional music make the tale unique and memorable. Vivid descriptions of smallpox and its effects leaving your skin crawling and insights into a baby farm are utterly galling. Parts are occasionally sexually explicit but there’s something about the styling that never makes it feel cringy or unnecessary. Overall I loved Frog Music and have rather started to miss Blanche already.
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