Frog-catcher Jenny Bonnet, an unorthodox young woman often jailed for wearing men’s clothing, is shot dead one evening, the bullet narrowly missing her friend Blanche Beunon, a former circus horseback rider turned exotic dancer. In her new novel Frog Music, Emma Donoghue takes this actual unsolved murder from the intense heat wave and smallpox epidemic of 1876 San Francisco and creates a powerful look into the lives of the city’s outcasts.
There’s so much inside this story that gives a clear picture of societal attitudes and norms of the time, including matters tucked away out of sight, out of mind. The latter being, without giving anything away, one of the most appalling and heart-wrenching things I’ve read about in a long time.
Frog Music is altogether exciting, suspenseful, tragic, unsavory, and scandalous. Its characters are gritty and flawed in all the best ways. Donoghue writes in a naturally beautiful style, interspersing smatterings of French throughout (there’s a glossary in the back of the book), but the pace is quick, which kept me turning page after page.
There is so much more I want to say, but I’m holding back because those things caught me by surprise as I was reading. Let’s just say, I think this book would give reading groups a wealth of topics to discuss.
As a musician, I was especially thrilled to find Song Notes in the appendix of the book, filled with background information about the music that appears throughout the story. I ended up making a playlist of most of the songs listed in the appendix, which I’m sharing here for you all to enjoy: