Frog Music

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Frog Music
by Emma Donoghue

This highly anticipated novel from the author of Room takes readers into the sordid world of San Francisco in 1876. Using the known facts of an unsolved murder, Donoghue weaves the intricate story of Blanche Beunon, a former circus performer turned burlesque dancer with a bit of prostitution on the side.

Blanche is suffering through a harsh heat wave and a smallpox epidemic when she meets the feisty Jenny Bonnet, who we learn in the first chapter is murdered. Before meeting Jenny, Blanche’s life consists of an unhealthy relationship with Arthur, a brute who is hard to stomach and a constant string of “jobs” with random men. The constant shifts in the time in the narrative were hard to follow. In one moments we’re in the hours following Jenny’s death and a second later we’re month or years in the past. 

I found the historical aspects of the book fascinating. Learning about the smallpox epidemic, burlesques, Chinese neighborhoods, and French circus was so interesting. It was the fictional elements of the book that fell flat at times for me. Blanche became an exhausting character to read about. She seemed to constantly put herself in bad situations or be surprised when awful people betrayed her. Jenny is the heart and soul of the book and I wish she had played a bigger part in the action. Her fiery demeanor and lust for life infected everyone around her.  

I was incredibly disappointed when Blanche and Jenny slept together. I understand that it was important to the plot, but it was such a letdown. Blanche sleeps with everyone, from Arthur to his friend Ernest to her clients; she uses her body to make money. But Jenny was the person that was a true friend to her. She wasn’t scared to give her an objective point about her life and she was there for Blanche in a way to no one else was. I was frustrated that they slept together because to me it cheapened their relationship. I felt like there was more depth to their friendship when sex was not on the table because sex was so common and cheap in Blanche’s world.

BOTTOM LINE: Interesting, well writing and great on audio, but I tired of hearing about Blanche’s troubles and I wished we heard more from Jenny.


Sandy Nawrot said...

You know, I loved Room. I thought it was so clever. But then my book club read Slammerkin, and I had some issues. Great research on the time period, and intriguing because it was based on a true crime, but there never seemed to be a point. And the protagonist was horrid. Not that I need to love the main character, but I was repulsed. Jury is out on whether I'll read this one.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Melissa, I enjoyed your take on Frog Music. Glad the audio book was enjoyable --I had to switch to print after a while.

Brona said...

I loved Room, but really struggled to get into this one and ended up giving up when I realised I was feeling bored and didn't care about any of the characters.

Sounds like you had some issues too - maybe audio would work better as I found the writing rather mundane?

JoAnn said...

I hope to try this on audio over the summer... loved Room!

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I'm a bit scared to read it exactly because of the high expectations after Room. I've see other reviews and they are pretty much aligned with yours.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to read your thoughts on it. I really enjoyed Frog Music, which I reviewed on my blog on May 19th. I appreciated Donoghue's meticulous historical research, and her portrayal of gender norms that still exist in a more subtle form today.

I thought it was only natural that Blanche and Jenny's friendship would develop into something more (and, considering these characters are based on real people, that might be truer to the history). However, I did take issue with Donoghue's portrayal of Blanche. As I wrote on my blog: "I would have appreciated a more nuanced analysis of whether Blanche’s 'chosen' employment is really a free choice based on an insatiable desire for sexual pleasure or if her claims of “desire” are, at best, an attempt to cope with her circumstances."

Unknown said...

Thanks for your review. I think I will pass. I liked Room and thought it was well-done, but I did not like Slammerkin at all and doubt I will pick this up after seeing so many mixed reviews.

Ellie said...

I've been wanting to read this since I first heard about it as Donoghue is one of my favourite authors at the moment. My colleague is reading it currently and is not enjoying it much so I'm kind of not sure whether it's worth having this as an addition to an already over flowing tbr... Maybe my expectations are too high!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - Ok, I've had Slammerkin on my shelf for awhile and now I'm thinking I'll just skip it.

Diane - I like the narration of the audiobook, but I did struggled with how much it jumped around in the timeline. It's easier to handle the jumps in print I think.

Brona Joy - The audio helps keep things moving, but I didn't love it in the end even in that format.

JoAnn - I hope it works better for you!

Alex - Maybe temper your expectations and then you'll love it.

misfortuneofknowing - That's a wonderful point. That aspect bothered me a bit too.

Rachel - I was on the fence about reading it too and now I think I'll skip Slammerkin.

Ellie - Maybe wait until the hype dies down and go into it with lowered expectations. That's worked for me with other books!

Andi said...

I've never read Donoghue's historical fiction. I have Slammerkin on my TBR and I'm looking forward to trying it and this one. We'll see how it goes!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Andi - It's worth a shot, some people love it!