Published by Little Brown on Apr. 1, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
It’s the summer of 1876, and boomtown San Francisco is sweltering under a heatwave. Blanche, a French circus-performer-turned-burlesque-dancer living with her fancy man, befriends a mysterious woman named Jenny, who wears men’s clothing and catches frogs for a living.
When the novel opens, Blanche and Jenny are languishing at a railroad saloon in a border town, and suddenly Jenny is fatally shot through the window. Although she has only known Jenny for a month, Blanche is determined to bring the killer to justice. Certain she knows who the killer she is, she embarks back to San Francisco to find proof. Along the way, Blanche realizes just how little she actually knows about this strange woman.
Interwoven with Blanche’s quest to solve the murder is the story of the events leading up to the shooting, from the night the two women met. As may be expected from a woman who has been repeatedly arrested for wearing pants, Jenny quickly proves to be an unusual character. Within just a few days, she alters the way Blanche perceives her life.
Readers, I couldn’t put this book down. I really enjoyed Room, but this is the first of Donoghue’s historical fiction that I’ve read. I definitely need to read more of it; she is incredible! 1870s San Francisco was a fascinating setting, and I loved all of the historical details: the smallpox epidemic, the depiction of Chinatown, “farms” that raise babies whose mothers can’t or don’t want to care for them, and the warped justice system.
Frog Music was a riot to read. It has murder, burlesque dancers, dangerous millionaires, irresponsible gamblers, bustle skirts, bohemians sharing the love, jealousy, and former circus performers. It’s riveting and vivid, and I couldn’t get enough. This novel is all the more interesting because it is based on a real, unsolved murder of the time.
I was a bit nervous about this novel at first because of my irrational fear of crime fiction. The mention of murder in the cover blurb made me wary, but everything about this book drew me in. It is a bit of a murder mystery, but it’s very character driven — and did I mention how incredible the setting is?! Frog Music is sweaty and gritty, with phenomenal characters and danger lurking around every corner. However, as a warning to sensitive readers: there are some sexually explicit scenes with really shaky notions of consent.
This novel is an unputdownable book about the mysteries of trying to know another person, being a woman during the time period, and the battles of motherhood. I loved it!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.