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, UK
Education—B.A., University College Dublin; Ph.D., University
   of Cambridge
Currently—lives in London, Ontario, Canada

Emma Donoghue is an Irish writer who lives in Canada. She has published six books of fiction, two works of literary history, two anthologies, and two plays.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, on 24 October 1969, Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours B.A. in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a Ph.D. (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her lover and their son.

From a 2004 Barnes & Noble interview:

• The youngest of eight children, I would never have been conceived if a papal bull hadn't guilt-tripped my poor mother into flushing her pills down the toilet.

• The nearest I've ever got to "honest toil" was a chambermaiding job in Wildwood, New Jersey, at the age of 18. I got fired for my "low bathroom standards."

• My lover and I have a one-year-old son called Finn, whose favorite thing is to rip books out of my hands and eat them.

• I am clumsy, a late and nervous driver, and despise all sports except a little gentle dancing or yoga.

• I have never been depressed or thrown a plate, which I attribute to the cathartic effects of writing books about people whose lives are more grueling than mine.

• I am completely unobservant and couldn't tell you how many windows there are in our living room.

• I would be miserable in beige; I mostly wear red, purple, and black.

• The way to my heart is through Belgian milk chocolate.

• When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, her is what she said:

I discovered Jeanette Winterson's strange, surreal novel about Napoleonic Venice, The Passion. I had read some trashy lesbian fiction before, but this was the very first book I found that had lesbian themes and was a work of great art. I realized—duh!—that it was possible to be "out" and a literary writer as well, and I started writing my first novel, Stir-Fry, the same year. I haven't liked all Winterson's books since, but I've always admired her uncompromising flair.

(From Barnes & Noble and the author's website.)

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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