Book Review: 'Frog Music'

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Emma Donoghue. Little, Brown, 403 pp. $27.

Someone recommended "Room," to me several years ago, back when it still dominated every book-related conversation and top seller list. I read it in a day and loved every second of it. Since then, I've gravitated toward anything with Emma Donoghue's name on it, and "Frog Music" sounded like another blockbuster in my mind.

They are, however, very different books. "Room" was about a young boy who had never experienced a world outside of the 100-square-foot room he had lived in for the first five years of his life. "Frog Music" is more of a murder mystery that takes place in the summer of 1876.

Blance Beunon is a French burlesque dancer who (literally) runs into Jenny Bonnet one evening after a show. A month later, in the height of a smallpox epidemic, Jenny is shot through a window with a bullet Blanche believes was meant for her.

Jenny was a free-spirited woman who wore pants despite getting arrested for "appearing in the apparel of the other sex." She hunts frogs for the local French and Chinese restaurants, then complains when they are prepared with too much salt. But even as strange and frustrating as Blanche finds her, she's determined to find the person behind the bullet that killed her friend, and bring the murderer to justice.

"Frog Music" took a little longer to get into than other works of Donoghue's did. I liked Blanche, but she didn't captivate me as much as she could have. But even with that in mind, Donoghue's writing is fabulous. She paints a picture I desperately want to step into. Wrapped around this murder mystery is the story of love and lawlessness, all about a woman who defied convention in every way she could.

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