Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

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I received this book from the publisher, Pan Macmillan SA, in exchange for an honest review.

San Francisco, 1876. Blanche Beunon, a former circus performer (now a Burlesque dancer) befriends Jenny Bonnet, a woman who is infamous in town for cross dressing and previously jailed for wearing men’s clothing. The pair meets when Blanche literally runs into Jenny one evening and strike up an unlikely friendship.  Blanche, who doesn’t have any female friends whatsoever, finds Jenny remarkably easy to open up to, yet Jenny is reluctant to share her past with Blanche.

Apart from being a burlesque dancer, Blanche makes her money by prostituting herself to her rich customers that comes to watch her dance. With that money she also supports her dandy boyfriend and his friend who lives with her in her apartment building and simultaneously funds their gambling habits.  When Jenny learns the state of her affairs, her many questions prompts Blanche to re-evaluate her relationship with her lover.

Blanche rescues her son from the baby farm he was sent to after she fell ill giving birth to him, after seeing the appalling circumstances he was raised in. She decides to keep her baby and raise him herself, but she does have feelings of guilt: about leaving him, not questioning the welfare of her child and yet she still seems to resent her “ugly baby” for being a burden on her lifestyle.  Without knowing, Blanche grows attached to her son, much to the resentment of her lover. Especially after she failed to look after him when he fell ill with small pox.

The reality of that time unfortunately was the small pox epidemic, baby and juvenile camps.  As Blanche finds out later about Jenny’s dark past, she used to be in a juvenile camp – with the scars to show for it.  After Blanche left her boyfriend, she follows Jenny to a town outside of San Francisco, were Jenny was brutally shot to her death.  Jenny is convinced that her ex-boyfriend and his hanger-on are guilty of the murder, especially after the threats they made to her and Jenny’s life when she left him.

Frog Music, a historical crime fiction, based on a real life murder case was a riveting read for me. Full of intrigue, flawed characters, murder mystery and scandalous sex scenes.  The characters are vividly described and interesting and the novel was rich in character development, especially for Blanche, who went from a pathetic and falsely confident prostitute to a woman who is ready to stand up for herself (and justice). Some French phrases are thrown in for effect (there’s a glossary of terms at the back), but I find that some terms/words I couldn’t find a meaning for, which hugely frustrated me. Although Frog Music was an interesting read, I don’t think that I enjoyed the novel as much as I thought I would. Despite that fact, this book is fast moving and interesting and a good read for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above.

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For more opinions on the book, check out the reviews of Monika @ Lovely Book Shelf | Shannon @ River City Reading | Katie @ Words for Worms | Leah @ Books Speak Volumes| Catherine @ The Gilmore Guide to Books