Frog Music by Emma Donoghue


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.

Image source

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

  • I read the book recently as well, but didn’t have enough to say about it to write a review. Blanche just didn’t work for me. The author’s note about what is truly known about Jenny was very interesting though.

    • I think Blanche was an interesting character – flawed and sometimes annoying, but I think she showed the most growth.

      • True; she’s an interesting character, and I liked her strength, especially at the end. I just didn’t find her growth that convincing. I think part of the problem was that I expected more emotional involvement on my end because of all the positive reviews I had read.

        • Out of all the reviews I’ve seen of Frog Music, only one was negative, so I had a high expectation. I did see the strength in this book and it’s by no means a boring read, but it wasn’t a 5 star book, The author is definitely a good writer and I’m interested in reading her previous book, Room. I heard it’s a quite a good one.

  • I haven’t read this one yet, but I recently read Room and liked it. And, I am now reading Astray, one of her short story collections. Both of these are very different, I think, from Frog Music, but her writing is good, so I think I would probably enjoy most of her books. Thanks for the thoughtful review!

    • Thank you Naomi, for saying my review is thoughtful. The novel definitely had it’s strengths and you are right about the author’s writing.

      I look forward to reading Room!

  • I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like it as much as you thought you would- I really hate when my expectations are too high going into a novel and it falls short. I feel a teensy bit responsible for those high expectations though, what with my RAVING about the book a couple of months ago.

    • Don’t worry – I can see why it would be a hit. This book was well written and the characters very interesting. It’s definitely not a boring read and quite fast paced too. Just some of the things I think makes it a good read. I just wasn’t that in love with the book.

  • It sounds like the writing style is very good but this story might not be the best to start with. Thanks for sharing!

    • Writing style, definitely good. You won’t find this book dragging or getting bored. You just have to be open minded when reading 🙂

  • Great review and wonderful incorporation of a synopsis of the story! Emma Donoghue always crafts such unique and intriguing stories; even though you didn’t love it as much as you thought you would, I’m glad you still enjoyed it. (:

    • Thank you, Thomas. Interesting it definitely was. I did enjoy it yes.

  • This one just came in for me at the library (ebook), so I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

    • I hope you enjoy it, Andi!

  • As I did like Room I’d be willing to try

  • I enjoyed reading your review. Frog Music sounds interesting.

  • I’m with you on this book not living up to my expectations. I listened to the audio (which helped with the french) but thought the plot dragged. included in my May reads.

    • Thank you for the link, Alena.

  • rivercityreading

    It’s strange how different the two covers are, but I love them both!
    Sorry this one didn’t work out too well for you, but I heard similar things from a few people about the French, too.

    • I had the grey cover, which I think was only for the ARCs, as I’ve only seen the red ones in store. This one was a good read, just not a 5 star for me 🙁

  • I’m sorry this one didn’t live up to the hype for you. I know that’s always a disappointment. 🙁 Thanks for the link!

    • Definitely didn’t live up to my high expectations, but definitely wasn’t a bad one. I still enjoyed it.

  • Thanks for sharing. Am not sure this would be something for me though!

  • I love your cover so much more than the US publication. I tried this one in print and then purchased the audiobook. I finished it, but I would not recommend it, which I hate saying because I like the author’s other books. You wrote a lovely review!!

    • Thank you, Anita! I remember you telling me on twitter that you opted for the audiobook. I have tried audiobooks before, I guess it’s just a matter of me getting used to being read to.

  • It would be hard for me to relate to a mother who’s resentful of her “ugly baby.” I think I’l pass. Great review!

    • I guess so, but that changes further into the novel…

  • I’m glad you liked this one 😀 I thought it was fun and I really liked that it was inspired by true events. It made me want to go back in time and find out what really happened. I adore the cover you’ve shown too.

    • Same here, I actually want to read up on that. I did like it yes! I’m thinking of reading Room too.

  • I haven’t read this one yet, but keep hearing so many good things. I find it interesting how Emma Donoghue is able to mix up her genres so much. This, compared with Room, compared with Landing…so different! Not a lot of authors do that.

    • I’ll have to read Room, because you’re not the only one to bring up the fact that she likes to mix it up. I hope you will give this one a try 🙂

  • Bummer that you didn’t love it as much as you thought it was. Looks like I need to adjust my expectations before I read it so that the same doesn’t happen to me 🙂

    • Happy reading, I hope you enjoy it.

  • Isi

    I haven’t read it but I’m looking forward to doing it, because I think I’ll like it very much. Perhaps you had too high expetations (like I have!), and then you felt a little bit disappointed.
    Anyway, I think I haven’t read many historical fiction crime novels, and I’m curious too about that.

    • I still liked this book, I just didn’t love it as much as I thought I would and I think you are right – you will most probably enjoy it. Definitely worth a read.