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Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

When Emma Donoghue wrote a book about Jack, a five-year-old who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside, readers marveled at this brilliant story – soon to become a motion picture. Room, the international bestseller, sold over a million copies, and won a ton of awards including the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction for the best Canadian novel. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the New York Times names it one of their six best fiction titles of 2010.

Now, Emma Donoghue returns with Frog Music, a story set in 1876 San Francisco, amid a stifling heat wave and smallpox epidemic that have engulfed the city. With this daringly different story from her original novel, Emma Donoghue will definitely not be typecast into a particular genre.

Here’s the book trailer for Frog Music.

The trailer suggests that it is a story about a solving a murder; but as I read the book, I discovered that the murder is only a small fraction of the entire book. To me, it’s more a story about friendships and love and secret lives and song and dance.

Blanche Beunon is a French burlesque dancer, who seems to lead a somewhat comfortable life, with a bohemian lover and a career that ensures her a certain joie de vivre.

Then she meets Jenny Bonnet, and almost overnight her circumstances change. Jenny the frog-hunter is indeed a charmer, and is almost as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

As Blanche starts hanging around with Jenny, she begins to struggle with her own choices in life – including a baby she’s “sent away” to a caregiver.

The book is full of lyrical references; the characters break away into song, as easily as they do in a musical. Sometimes it’s cute, other times it feels a bit overdone.

Despite their different personalities, the friendship that develops between the Blanche (the burlesque dancer) and Jenny (a vagabond who dresses like a guy and has constantly been thrown in jail for it), is welcoming. Emma Donoghue never completely fills in all the gaps for us in terms of Jenny’s background. Just as she is a mystery coming in, she remains a bit of an enigma as we complete the book. Also, the complete relationship between the two is never really explained.

The song and dance, and slow moving plotlines, made Frog Music a bit of a challenging read for me personally. But, perhaps it is not suited to my particular reading enjoyments. Others may find that Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown with a thrilling cinematic style crime adventure. 


Frog Music is published by HarperCollins Publishing

3 out of 5 Sukasa Stars

Review by @ShilpaRaikar for @SukasaReads (a division of @SukasaStyle)