Frog Music

Frog Music

A Novel

Book - 2014
Average Rating:
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It is 1876, and San Francisco, the freewheeling "Paris of the West," is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman called Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, Blanche will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first.
Publisher: Toronto : HarperCollins, c2014
ISBN: 9781443429115
1443429112
Characteristics: 405 p

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SaraPettigrew
Sep 21, 2017

I really enjoyed this one. Jenny and Blanche are both wonderful characters. For all their flaws, I still found them very likeable, and I enjoyed how the author kept peeling back layers of the onion so we found out more about them. I got used to the time frame jumping about, and thought it effective in unraveling the story.

I loved the afterword and the discovery that this story was based on real people and real events. It certainly made me want to dig in and discover more.

s
spiderfelt_0
Sep 18, 2017

I went to San Francisco this weekend with Frog Music for company. It was a great book to provide some sense of the city as I walked around. While Chinatown appears to be a caricature of itself today, it wasn't difficult to imagine the streets in 1876. Donoghue vividly paints the racial tensions and daily struggles of this time. Not really a crime novel and certainly not a mystery, but a historical drama painting a portrait of the time where crime is a part of life.

s
sanspeur
Feb 19, 2017

Though some have described this book as a whodunit or crime novel, to me it's more a historical novel. I enjoyed the setting in the rough and tumble San Fransisco of the late 1800's in the midst of a heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. But I found Blanche, the protagonist, a former French circus performer turned erotic dancer and prostitute, hard to relate to. The most intriguing character is Jenny, a free spirit who asks disconcerting questions that disrupt Blanche's unthinking existence and whose disregard of convention eventually results in her murder.

c
colettecase
Jun 06, 2016

A very interesting story, but difficult to get through. The writing style didn't really hold my attention. Paints a very vivid picture of San Francisco during that time.

h
haileyj
Nov 22, 2015

This is the second time I've tried to read this story and I just can't get interested enough in Blanche to keep reading. The historical back and forth device of the writing style makes the story more complicated to read than necessary.

v
v1h
Oct 20, 2015

This was the choice of a book club and was already on my To Read list, so I was happy to read it.... though it starts out slow, but somewhere around the middle it just gets better and better. And it becomes apparent that the jumping back and forth between (very close) times was necessary for the telling of it.

athompson10 Oct 19, 2015

Well researched and an interesting story about a fascinating time in American history. I got a little annoyed with the back-and-forth timeline, as it got hard to keep track of what was done when and to whom. This story would have benefited from a straight time line instead of the flashbacks.

n
niceauntie
Mar 05, 2015

Not awful but didn't meet my expectations. The story jumped around to the point where I found it confusing and irritating.

brianreynolds Feb 06, 2015

It’s hardly my place to tell Emma Donoghue she should change this or that in what has to be one the most readable, most entertaining, most horrifying, most delicious historical novels I’ve read: <i>Frog Music</i>. But I so wished it could have been about Jenny Bonnet instead of Blanche Beunon. Not that Blanche didn’t make the better representative of 19th century San Francisco and the better commentary on the plight of women and the better protagonist in terms of character development and the most likely to be tied to a railway track by Snidely Whiplash and the most likely to be dense enough to justify plenty of suspense, but Jenny is more likely to star in my memory of the book since she is a 21st century delight.

j
jmikesmith
Feb 04, 2015

I'm torn on this one. This is an engaging and fascinating fictionalized version of a true story about a murder in 1876 San Francisco. But... there were a few things about the style and structure of the story that seemed like gimmicks and distracted me from the progress of the narrative.

The murder victim is Jenny Bonnet, a 27-year-old tomboyish woman who likes to wear pants (apparently a crime at the time) and hunt for frogs to supply local restaurants. Early in the story, she crosses paths with Blanche Beunon, a 24-year-old dancer, who dances for a male audience at an establishment known as the House of Mirrors. Jenny and Blanche were both born in France and emigrated to San Francisco, Jenny as a young girl and Blanche just a little over a year before the story opens. Blanche believes her lover of nine years and father to their one-year-old son may be behind the murder, but can't make up her mind what to tell the authorities.

Emma Donoghue paints a fully engrossing picture of San Francisco, with its mix of businessmen, prostitutes, Chinese and other immigrants, reporters, pub keepers, and policemen. It's still the Wild West, but in a city growing too rapidly for the authorities to contain all of the social challenges of such a diverse population. The actual murder mystery, however, doesn't seem substantial enough to drive the entire novel. There is a subplot about Blanche's son that adds both tension and humour, but that in the end feels inconsequential.

Further complicating the story is the novel's structure. The story moves back and forth between the month before the murder, when Jenny and Blanche meet, and the few days after it, when Blanche tries to deal with her friend's death and its effect on her own life. While Donoghue always lets us know when we are, it's sometimes difficult to keep track of what the characters know. We know the futures that they haven't lived yet. I suspect this structure was used partly to put the murder at the beginning of the book, even though it occurs near the chronological end of the story. As a result, most of the story is about the growth of Jenny's and Blanche's friendship. The police procedural, murder-solving part is actually a fairly small part of the story, even though the book comes across as a genre crime novel.

In addition, both story lines (pre- and post-murder) are told in the present tense, which feels a little odd in a historical novel. Blanche is the viewpoint character, and we see everything through her eyes. She is naive and vain, but Donoghue is skilled at making the reader understand things Blanche does not herself fully comprehend.

This is an ambitious first crime novel from a dramatic writer. The historical research is evident, but the plot structure and the overall thinness of the plot detract from the rich portrait of a city in transition.

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PrairieStar
Jul 10, 2014

Listened to the downloadable MP3 and had a hard time putting it down. The jumping back and forth in time got a bit old, especially when it was just a rehash of information covered previously.

a
AuntMaryE
Jul 09, 2014

A gilded age prostitute has a relationship with a gentleman of the night. A typhoid epidemic hits San Francisco. The book is rich in period details. The appendix also has much helpful information.

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