Frog Music (Donoghue)

Frog Music 
Emma Donoghue, 2014
Little, Brown & Co.
496 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316324687

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 publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—October 24, 1969
Where—Dublin, Ireland
Education—B.A., University College Dublin; Ph.D., University of Cambridge
Awards—Irish Book Award
Currently—lives in London, Ontario, Canada

Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin, Ireland, the youngest of eight children. She is the daughter of Frances (nee Rutledge) and academic and literary critic Denis Donoghue. Other than her tenth year, which she refers to as "eye-opening" while living in New York, Donoghue attended Catholic convent schools throughout her early years.

She earned a first-class honours BA from the University College Dublin in English and French (though she admits to never having mastered spoken French). Donoghue went on receive her PhD in English from Girton College at Cambridge University. Her thesis was on the concept of friendship between men and women in 18th-century English fiction.

At Cambridge, she met her future life partner Christine Roulston, a Canadian, who is now professor of French and Women's Studies at the University of Western Ontario. They moved permanently to Canada in 1998, and Donoghue became a Canadian citizen in 2004. She lives in London, Ontario, with Roulston and their two children, Finn and Una.

Donoghue has been able to make a living as a writer since she was 23. Doing so enables her to claim that she's never had an "honest job" since she was sacked after a summer as a chambermaid. In 1994, at only 25, she published first novel, Stir Fry, a contemporary coming of age novel about a young Irish woman discovering her sexuality.

Slammerkin, out in 2000, is a historical novel set in London and Wales. Inspired by an 18th-century newspaper story about a young servant who killed her employer and was executed, the protagonist is a prostitute who longs for fine clothes.

The Sealed Letter, another work of historical fiction, came next, in 2008. This third novel is based on the Codrington Affair, a scandalous divorce case that gripped Britain in 1864

Room, Donoghue's fourth novel, released in 2010, practically made her a household name. The book spent months on bestseller lists and won the Irish Book Award. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Orange prize, and  the governor General's Awards (Canada), the novel was adapted to film in 2015 with Donoghue writing the screenplay. That effort earned her a nomination for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Bafta Award.

Donoghue's fifth novel Frog Music was published in 2014.  Another work of historical fiction, it is based on the true story of a murdered 19th century cross-dressing frog catcher.

The Wonder came out 2016. Her sixth novel (and fourth work of historical fiction), it centers on a devout 11-year-old Catholic girl in Ireland who has not eaten in four months yet remains mostly healthy. (Adapted from the author's website and Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/22/2016.)

Book Reviews
Emma Donoghue’s novel a triumph.... The same cannot be said of Donoghue’s new novel, Frog Music, which is based on a true-life unsolved murder that occurred on the outskirts of San Francisco in the summer of 1876.... Frog Music refuses to come to life, quietly collapsing under the weight of its own tedium. This may be a function both of the thinness of the actual story on which it’s based and of Donoghue’s failure to develop it.... [T]he plot doesn’t gain any traction, repetitively hitting the same two beats, the loss of the child and the unsolved murder.
Patrick McGrath - New York Times Book Review

(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.
Publishers Weekly

(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. —Sally Bissell, Fort Myers, FL
Library Journal

(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. —Sarah Johnson

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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the title. How do frogs relate to the story?

2.  Frog Music takes place during 1870s San Francisco. How does Donoghue describe the city?

3. How is Frog Music different from other historical fiction you've read recently? Did anything surprise you about the novel?

4. How does Donoghue incorporate lyrics and French references into the book? What do the lyrics and references reveal about the characters and plot? How do they influence the structure and style of the book?

5. Discuss the role of cross-dressing in Frog Music. How does Jenny defy and transcend the social boundaries of 1870s San Francisco?

6. Frog Music features depictions of strong female characters. How are Jenny and Blanche similar? How are they different?

7. Describe the role of motherhood in Frog Music. How does Donoghue depict the role of motherhood during this time period and for specific characters in the book?

8. What roles do secondary characters play in the story? Discuss the role of Arthur. Why does Arthur find Jenny so threatening?

9) What taboos does Emma Donoghue address during Frog Music? Do any of them still exist today?

10. Was Blanche a likeable character? In what ways did you sympathize with her? In what ways could you not relate? In what ways does Blanche have to fight against what she wants in life versus what society expects from her? Discuss.
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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