From the author of Room, 2010’s literary sensation, comes a tale of murder and intrigue set in San Francisco, 1876. Our heroine, Blanche, is a former Parisian circus girl, now working in Chinatown’s House of Mirrors as an exotic dancer – and occasional prostitute. The novel opens with the shotgun murder of Blanche’s close friend, and cross-dresser, Jenny Bonnet. Blanche finds herself left with no money, nowhere to live, no baby, and no friends to turn to. Slowly, a sophisticated “whodunit” plot unravels and secrets come to light against the backdrop of a stifling heatwave, and a smallpox epidemic.
For historical fiction to truly work, the reader needs to be completely transported to a different era, and the author needs to paint a believable portrayal of that period on the pages. Emma Donoghue does this masterfully. As I read Frog Music, I could feel the sticky sweat on my skin, my hair clinging to my forehead, and the thickness of the heat overwhelming me, and I could smell the desperation and the disease lurking in the air around me. I was right there in the underbelly of this nineteenth century San Francisco, thanks to Donoghue adept ability to trigger all my senses with her descriptions…the atmosphere she creates.
This is a book inspired by true events: based on a murder that happened in San Francisco in 1896 during a heatwave and smallpox epidemic. Even the central characters are based on real people. Seamlessly marrying fact and fiction, this is an exploration of motherhood, love, sex, freedom and independence. It is a dynamic story that moves forward and back through time, while also bringing the reader to moments of utter stillness. It is wholly foreign in parts, and yet entirely familiar in others. Frog Music is something quite unique.