Emma Donoghue: Frog Music

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.

I don’t typically read audiobooks, but while stuck in bed for several days at the beginning of the month with a mega migraine flare up, there wasn’t much I could do except just that. Because of the description of Frog Music, I thought it would lend itself to the perfect audio read–an interesting story, with music and songs. Those types of books generally sound better than read on the page, so I downloaded it from the library and settled in to my bed nest for a listen.

I wasn’t wrong–this definitely was meant to be heard rather than read on the page. The reader had great vocal presence, did a great job with the many accents–French, old timey Western. She had a decent singing voice even in those accents for the little diddies that went along with the story.

Unfortunately, I had a very hard time connecting with the characters. The only one I was remotely interested in, Jenny, dies a few chapters in (not a spoiler, it’s in the blurb). The rest seemed flat and secondary. Even Blanche just didn’t have any appeal to me.

But I might have at least continued the book, just to find out what happened, even after I was well–if it weren’t for the blatant racism throughout. The book is set in San Francisco in the late 1800s, and there is a hard focus on Asian families who migrated to America during that period of time. They were referred to with slurs and terrible discrimination throughout the first half of the book–blamed for the sickness that was running through the city, and looked down upon for their supposed filthy ways of living and lack of Westernization. There was no point to it–it wasn’t related to the plot at all, more of a general setting or city description–and therefore it went unchallenged. The more pieces like that came up, the more sick I felt, and the less I wanted to continue. I’d love someone to tell me that later in the book it is challenged, that it gets better…but I was too turned off by it to finish the book.

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