Frog Music

Frog Music

2.7 38
by Emma Donoghue

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

In a recent author Q and A, Emma Donoghue wrote, "One journalist kindly alerted me to the fact that there was a hoax in my Wikipedia entry, a claim that I was writing about 'the murder of a cross-dressing frog-catcher!'—and was abashed when I told him it was true." Fortunately, Jenny Bonnet, the pants-wearing victim in this evocative historical novel, is not painted here as an outlandish buffoon; in fact, she is modeled on an irrepressible, very real person who was savagely killed in San Francisco in 1876. Replete with vivid characters, lyrical asides and other atmospheric touches, Frog Music sounds just the right notes. Editor's recommendation.

Library Journal
★ 01/01/2014
Clothes make the man, it's said, but don't tell that to Jenny Bonnet, the cross-dressing, frog-catching, gun-toting antiheroine of Donoghue's genre-defying new novel, set in late 1800s California. When the inimitable Jenny loses control of her high-wheel bicycle, riding smack into prostitute and exotic dancer Blanche Beunon, something extraordinary happens: Blanche discovers female friendship. Viewing her life through Jenny's lens, Blanche finds her fantasy world evaporating. Her lover Arthur Deneve, a gambler and a dandy, is nothing more than her pimp. And where, Blanche wonders, did he really take the little boy she gave birth to a year ago? Donoghue's evocative language invades the senses with the sights and smells of Chinatown, the frying food, boisterous saloons, even the sickrooms of victims of the smallpox epidemic. 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. VERDICT A murder mystery, a feminist manifesto, and a human interest story, this will likely be compared to Donoghue's well-received Slammerkin, but it was her blockbuster, Room, soon to be a major motion picture, that made Donoghue a book group darling. Expect lots of requests. [See Prepub Alert, 10/4/13.]—Sally Bissell, Fort Myers, FL
From the Publisher
"Donoghue's latest novel has many facets, all of them fascinating.... Like her hair-raising best-seller Room, it incorporates the elements of a thriller; in fact, there's enough puzzle here to qualify as a full-blooded mystery. Best of all, there's Donoghue's intricate examination of women in impossible circumstances, bound to repugnant men for survival but never broken by them.... Colorful French slang and period songs...flow through the novel lyrically, making the era as vital as the plot. Donoghue is acrobatic with her storytelling and language and paints the stinking city vividly.... [A] vibrant and remarkable novel."—San Jose Mercury News"

An engrossing read."June Thomas, NY1's "The Book Reader""

A page-turner of a mystery with rich historical texture.... Atop the mystery, Ms. Donoghue masterfully overlays another story about motherhood and obligation, and friendship-even desire-between women. [She] manifests her genius by weaving the two together."—Julie Hakim Azzam, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette"

Where Donoghue excels is in her descriptions of 19th century squalor.... Poignant."—Elizabeth Hand, Los Angeles Times"

Endlessly intriguing.... You'll find yourself enraptured by the intricate plot developments that will keep you revising your version of the action from one hour to the next."—Maude McDaniel, BookPage"

Rich hauls of historical research, deeply excavated but lightly borne.... [An] ingenious telling."—David Kipen, Wall Street Journal"

[An] ebullient mystery..... Donoghue cross-cuts between Blanche's desperate present-time search and scenes from her Technicolor past with showstopping aplomb.... It's all great fun, and so richly atmospheric.... Astonishing details are scattered like party nuts.... Donoghue also provides riotous musical accompaniment for her narrative.... Call it a mind-bendingly original crime novel, or a dazzling historical mystery, but in the end, this is really a book about love-a mother's love for a strange child, for an exotic friend and finally, for herself."—Caroline Leavitt, San Francisco Chronicle"

In Jenny the frog-catcher, Donoghue has resurrected a true original-witty, perceptive, iconoclastic and nearly indomitable."—Kathy Ewing, Cleveland Plain Dealer"

FROG MUSIC is miles away from the traditional who-done-it, and rather more colorful than your mama's historical fiction...[and] should appeal to those who don't mind their history with grit and unflinching details."—Brooke Wylie, Examiner"

Whether the crime is stranger than fiction or simply more colorful than anything a writer would dare to invent, the true story of Jeanne Bonnet is a scandalous delight."—Sara Breselor, 7x7SF"

The authenticity Donoghue brings to her work, something of a signature, lends richness and verisimilitude to the book. FROG MUSIC is a can't-miss work."—Terri Schlichenmeyer, Washington Blade"

As with Room, the book thrives on Donoghue's precisely poignant details.... This is a book to cherish, to share with your friends and book clubs, to buy for every reader on your Christmas list, and to read again in a few years. Adored is not too strong a word to describe my feelings for it. My one wish: Emma Donoghue, could you please write faster?"—Joy Tipping, Dallas Morning News"

Room's eloquent author brings the same sensitivity to this period piece, which explores the unsolved 1876 San Francisco murder of Jenny Bonnet through the eyes of the bohemian friend she left behind."—InStyle"

The setting [Blanche] inhibits is alive, brimming with sin and music."—New Yorker"

Donoghue depicts with feeling the new parent's confusion, anxiety and guilt—not just 'Am I doing the right thing?' but 'Am I feeling the right thing-.... Respect for the facts lets the book sprawl towards its final revelations. The effect is a rough if vital music, not unlike Blanche's own repertoire."—Adrian Turpin, Financial Times"

Donoghue has a gift for place, for setting, for wringing anxiety and drama out of the spaces her characters occupy, as well as for taking real-life events and rendering them realer and sharper than they were the first time around.... It's a bizarre story through and through, and Donoghue more than does it justice, drawing for the reader a (clearly assiduously researched) world that feels both too strange to be real and too vivid not to be."—Ellen Cushing, East Bay Express"

The perfect highbrow historical murder mystery summer read.... Working from actual historic record, Donoghue...masterfully fleshes out San Francisco's demi-monde of French émigré performers and pimps.... [and her] pacing is exemplary.... FROG MUSIC also makes a case for the return of blatant eroticism to mainstream literature. Blanche Buenon's world is one of sex and prostitution, Jenny's one of subverting her gender expectations, and both women have a charged sexuality that simmers like that summer heat wave under the surface of the novel. Donoghue handles graphic sexual scenes deftly, never compromising the frank and lustful point of view of her main character."—Leigh Baldwin, San Antonio Current

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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Meet 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 (Slammerkin, Life Mask, Landing, The Sealed Letter) to the contemporary (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. For more information, visit

Brief Biography

London, England and Ontario, Canada
Date of Birth:
October 24, 1969
Place of Birth:
Dublin, Ireland
B.A. in English and French, University College Dublin, 1990; Ph.D. in English, University of Cambridge, 1998

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Frog Music: A Novel 2.7 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 38 reviews.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
Frog-catcher Jenny Bonnet, an unorthodox young woman often jailed for wearing men's clothing, is shot dead one evening, the bullet narrowly missing her friend Blanche Beunon, a former circus horseback rider turned exotic dancer. In her new novel Frog Music, Emma Donoghue takes this actual unsolved murder from the intense heat wave and smallpox epidemic of 1876 San Francisco and creates a powerful look into the lives of the city's outcasts. There's so much inside this story that gives a clear picture of societal attitudes and norms of the time, including matters tucked away out of sight, out of mind. The latter being, without giving anything away, one of the most appalling and heart-wrenching things I've read about in a long time. Frog Music is altogether exciting, suspenseful, tragic, unsavory, and scandalous. Its characters are gritty and flawed in all the best ways. Donoghue writes in a naturally beautiful style, interspersing smatterings of French throughout (there's a glossary in the back of the book), but the pace is quick, which kept me turning page after page. There is so much more I want to say, but I'm holding back because those things caught me by surprise as I was reading. Let's just say, I think this book would give reading groups a wealth of topics to discuss. As a musician, I was especially thrilled to find Song Notes in the appendix of the book, filled with background information about the music that appears throughout the story. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Rich Follett for Readers' Favorite Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music is as raucous and ebullient as its title implies. The cast of characters is a hardscrabble, resilient and eccentric never-say-die cast including Blanche, a French dance hall girl not entirely above selling her favors, a cross-dressing frog catcher named Jenny (hence, the amphibious title), a prematurely retired peacock shyster aerialist and his sycophantic partner in crime - all struggling to survive in smallpox-ridden San Francisco in 1876. When Jenny the frog catcher is murdered only inches away with buckshot that may have been intended for Blanche, a cat-and-mouse drama unfolds as Blanche tries both to solve the mystery and rescue Petit, her infant son who has been kidnapped as surety against her truthful testimony in court. The reversals in Frog Music are relentless and darkly fascinating. As read by Khristine Hvam, Emma Donaghue’s portentous, serpentine third-person narrative has the feel of a turn-of-the-century penny dreadful or a ‘read-all-about-it’ headline - exactly the kind of ‘can’t-look-away’ allure that causes good people to rubberneck at the scene of a car crash. Frog Music is a rare treat in that it is truly divergent from the vast majority of popular fiction. The characters are wickedly eccentric, complex, and drawn in the most fascinating strokes imaginable. The narrative is uncompromising and compelling. The tension is ratcheted up in unexpected ways that border on the perverse. Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music demands that we look head-on at things and people that we would normally view only in sidelong glances. As a result, it is an unforgettable and eminently worthwhile read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I loved Donoghue's powerful 'Slammerkin' - well-researched, soulful and moving, I have found Frog Music to be an agitating read, perhaps because of the 'then and now' chapters, perhaps because dense description jarrs against light character development. The thought occured to me that famous writers sometimes take out-of-the-box writing risks that work, but after 50 plus pages, I have turned to another riveting read of the same time period and also in the U.S.: Valerie Boyd's 'Wrapped In Rainbows', a biography of Zora Neale Hurston.
ABookishGirlBlog More than 1 year ago
I know not all books can live up to the hype that is thrown upon them by advanced book reviews but I was quite disappointed in Emma Donoghue's Frog Music for I was hoping it was going to be as good as everyone said it was. But it wasn't! My eyes felt heavy and my brain numb as I tried to read through some of the nauseatingly long paragraphs so I started skimming the pages reading only what seemed important because the only thing that really kept me plugging away at it was because I wanted to find out who really did it. I normally love literary novels but this one was as limp as a dead frog.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An adult book, not because adolescents wouldn't understand it literally but because it is a little raunchy and nonsequential in its construction for no apparent reason.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I read the summary of the book I thought it looked very interesting. However, I found the story very difficult to follow. The author jumped from one thing to anothr. It was very difficult to follow and I had to go back each time to figure out who was who. It begins with the main character meeting a young women. From there the story becomes very disjointed. And the smattering of French was distracting and I know French. I finished the book because I kept on thinking it would get better. Would not recommend. Very disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Story not very compelling. Not fond of the author's writing style in this story. Seems disjointed as the narrative jumps back and forth in time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved Room, but this one was just awful. Could not fid a character to care about. Stopped at page 80, when I decided that to finish it was a huge waste of time.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so boring after about the first 25 pages I just couldn't stand reading any more of it. To submit a review I guess you must rate things at least one star, but in my opinion this book should get none.
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Beauty res 1
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt compelled to post a review because so many of those posted struck me as being very misleading. I agree that this book is very different from 'Room'. This book stands on its own and I found it to be very interesting and very evocative of its setting and time. Readers who do not finish the work or who only "skim the long paragraphs" are not serious readers. This book definitely deserves to be read and savored and enjoyed. As with 'Slammerkin' I do not think you will forget it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really average read. Perhaps i expected a book as good as Room but it did not come close. Not sure what to expect from her next book
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I LOVED "Room" and could not wait to read Frog Music. It was a disappointing read. The story never really grabbed me and in my opinion the writing was disjointed.
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