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Frog Music
Cover of Frog Music
Frog Music
A Novel
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From the author of the worldwide bestseller Room: "Her greatest achievement yet...Emma Donoghue shows more than range with FROG MUSIC—she shows genius." — Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life
Summer of 1876: San Francisco 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 named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.
The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice—if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.
In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.
From the author of the worldwide bestseller Room: "Her greatest achievement yet...Emma Donoghue shows more than range with FROG MUSIC—she shows genius." — Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life
Summer of 1876: San Francisco 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 named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.
The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice—if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.
In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.
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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is an Irish emigrant twice over: she spent eight years in Cambridge doing a PhD in eighteenth-century literature before moving to London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their two children. She also migrates between genres, writing literary history, biography, stage and radio plays as well as fairy tales and short stories.
    She is best known for her novels, which range from the historical (Frog Music, Slammerkin, Life Mask, Landing, The Sealed Letter) to the contemporary (Akin, Stir-Fry, Hood, Landing). Her international bestseller Room was a New York Times Best Book of 2010 and was a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth, and Orange Prizes.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 16, 2013
    Donoghue’s first literary crime novel is a departure from her bestselling Room, but it’s just as dark and just as gripping as the latter. Based on the circumstances surrounding the grizzly real-life murder of Jenny Bonnet, a law-flouting, pants-wearing frog catcher who lived in San Francisco in the mid-1870s, this investigation into who pulled the trigger is told in episodic flashbacks from the point of view of Blanche Beunon. Blanche is a raunchy, self-absorbed burlesque dancer and French émigré who befriended the alluring Bonnet and was with her on the night she was killed. Also woven into the plot is Blanche’s sordid relationship with Albert Deneve, an ex–tightrope walker, and his minion Ernest, who may have had a hand in the murder while swindling Blanche out of house, home, and one-year-old baby. Aside from the obvious whodunit factor, the book is filled with period song lyrics and other historic details, expertly researched and flushed out. The sweltering heat wave and smallpox epidemic that afflicted thousands in 1876, the Sinophobic takedown of Chinese businesses, and the proliferation of baby farms—glorified dumping grounds for unwanted babies—are all integrated into the story of Bonnet’s tragic end. Donoghue’s signature talent for setting tone and mood elevates the book from common cliffhanger to a true chef d’oeuvre.

  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2013
    In the sweltering fall of 1876, a San Francisco prostitute tracks a killer and searches for her stolen baby. Donoghue returns here to the historical fiction genre in which she first made her international mark (Slammerkin, 2000, etc.), but she's blended in the suspense craft she acquired writing her contemporary mega-seller Room (2010). Who fired the shotgun blasts that blew away Jenny Bonnet while her friend Blanche bent down to take off her boots? Blanche believes it was her lover Arthur or his sidekick, Ernest, who have been living on her earnings as a high-priced erotic dancer/whore. They weren't happy when Jenny goaded Blanche into retrieving her 1-year-old son, P'tit, from the ghastly holding pen for unwanted children where Arthur dumped him while Blanche was ill. And Jenny is killed while Blanche is hiding out in the countryside with her after an ugly scene with Arthur and Ernest that led Blanche to flee their apartment without P'tit. The men blame Jenny for Blanche's newfound, unwelcome independence, but there are plenty of other people in San Francisco who dislike the defiant, cross-dressing frog-catcher, who presents herself as an untamed free spirit. There's far more to Jenny's story, we learn, as Donoghue cuts between Blanche's hunt for her son in mid-September and the events of August, when her collision with bicycle-riding Jenny led to their unlikely friendship. By the time the murderer is revealed, we understand why Jenny knows so much about abandoned children, and we've seen how Blanche has been changed by her hesitant commitment to motherhood. (Some of the book's funniest, most touching moments depict her early struggles to care for "this terrible visitor," her baby.) Donoghue's vivid rendering of Gilded Age San Francisco is notable for her atmospheric use of popular songs and slang in Blanche's native French, but the book's emotional punch comes from its portrait of a woman growing into self-respect as she takes responsibility for the infant life she's created. More fine work from one of popular fiction's most talented practitioners.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2013
    Donoghue caught everyone's attention with "Room", a visceral stunner that has sold more than 1.5 million copies and was a 2010 Man Booker Prize finalist. Her follow-up short story collection, "Astray", demonstrated her uncanny ability to turn historical fact into affecting fiction. She'll doubtless do that again in this new novel, based on an unsolved murder in 1876 San Francisco. As the city is swept by smallpox and wrenching heat, Jenny Bonnet is shot to death through the window of a railroad saloon, and friend Blanche Beunon, a French burlesque dancer, meets the stuck-up wealthy, the desperately poor, and the determinedly bohemian as she searches of the killer. Not surprisingly, there's a 200,000-copy first printing and a ten-city tour.

    Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from February 1, 2014
    Donoghue flawlessly combines literary eloquence and vigorous plotting in her first full-fledged mystery, a work as original and multifaceted as its young murder victim. During the scorching summer of 1876, Jenny Bonnet, an enigmatic cross-dressing bicyclist who traps frogs for San Francisco's restaurants, meets her death in a railroad saloon on the city's outskirts. Exotic dancer Blanche Beunon, a French immigrant living in Chinatown, thinks she knows who shot her friend and why, but has no leverage to prove it and doesn't know if she herself was the intended target. A compulsive pleasure-seeker estranged from her fancy man, Blanche searches desperately for her missing son while pursuing justice for Jenny, but finds her two goals sit in conflict. In language spiced with musical interludes and raunchy French slang, Donoghue brings to teeming life the nasty, naughty side of this ethnically diverse metropolis, with its brothels, gaming halls, smallpox-infested boardinghouses, and rampant child abuse. Most of her seedy, damaged characters really lived, and she not only posits a clever solution to a historical crime that was never adequately solved but also crafts around Blanche and Jenny an engrossing and suspenseful tale about moral growth, unlikely friendship, and breaking free from the past.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Karen Holt, O, The Oprah Magazine A riveting literary thriller.... Donoghue brilliantly conjures the chaos of a boomtown in the grip of both a heat wave and a smallpox epidemic; her cast of colorful lowlifes includes the freeloading Arthur and his sycophantic best friend, Ernest. But it's Blanche and Jenny who hold our attention.... FROG MUSIC begins with a mystery: Who killed Jenny? But it enthralls with two other questions: Who was Jenny? Who will Blanche become?
  • Elyse Moody, Elle FROG MUSIC...[brings] to steamy life the unresolved so-called San Miguel Mystery.... Donoghue front-loads the ­drama.... She captures San Francisco in all its ­melting-pot, fishy-smelling glory, and weaves in authentic ­details about smallpox outbreaks, race riots, and orphan­ages. ­Jenny Bonnet is an incendiary character pulled directly from the history books.... Her extraordinary life gives Donoghue's novel contemporary resonance.
  • Kirkus Reviews More fine work from one of popular fiction's most talented practitioners.... Donoghue's vivid rendering of Gilded Age San Francisco is notable for her atmospheric use of popular songs and slang in Blanche's native French, but the book's emotional punch comes from its portrait of a woman growing into self-respect as she takes responsibility for the infant life she's created.
  • Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life Emma Donoghue shows more than range with FROG MUSIC-she shows genius. Like and unlike her stunning ROOM, this novel lifts into view a strange crime, a remarkable woman, and is a Ringling Brothers-grade feat of narrative strength. As ever, Donoghue focuses on people on the skirts of the world, who make their way outside the common middle of things. Blanche and Jenny are characters you will never forget, filmed in vibrant, cinemascope prose, and they mark Emma Donoghue's greatest achievement yet.
  • Gabe Habash, Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Donoghue's first literary crime novel is a departure from her bestselling Room, but it's just as dark and just as gripping as the latter.... Aside from the obvious whodunit factor, the book is filled with period song lyrics and other historic details, expertly researched and flushed out.... Donoghue's signature talent for setting tone and mood elevates the book from common cliffhanger to a true chef d'oeuvre.
  • Sarah Johnson, Booklist (Starred Review) Donoghue flawlessly combines literary eloquence and vigorous plotting in her first full-fledged mystery, a work as original and multifaceted as its young murder victim.... An engrossing and suspenseful tale about moral growth, unlikely friendship, and breaking free from the past.
  • Library Journal (Starred Review) Donoghue's evocative language invades the senses.... Readers won't quickly forget this rollicking, fast-paced novel, which is based on a true story and displays fine bits of humor with underlying themes of female autonomy and the right to own one's sexual identity.
  • Julie Buntin, Cosmopolitan Donoghue proves herself endlessly inventive....[She] nails both the period details and the atmosphere-think sweltering heat waves, dumping grounds for unwanted babies, and smallpox epidemics. This is the kind of book that will keep you up at night and make you smarter.
  • Adam Rathe, DuJour [An] offbeat, high-minded whodunit from the award-winning author of Room.
  • New York Observer A historical narrative set in San Francisco in 1876.... [that] provides further proof that Ms. Donoghue is an unusually versatile writer.
  • Megan Angelo, Glamour The Room author's latest novel, about a woman solving her friend's murder in 1876 San Fran, sucks you in.
  • Ellen Wernecke, A.V. Club Research and invention together mark FROG MUSIC with the ring of truth and salvage a fascinating story from the ether of history.
  • Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times Like Room...Donoghue here displays an uncanny knack for telling an off-putting story in such a way that you can't stop reading it, that you fall a little bit in love with the characters and the moment in time she's creating.
  • Daniel Lefferts, Bookish Unmissable-a novel bound to be one of the most talked about of the year.
  • Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Donoghue...devises an ingeniously plotted revision to the official story of why Jenny died-true to her sustained, career-long effort to read history slant and thereby set the record straight.
  • Charles Finch, Chicago Tribune It's in the tentative moments of l
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