About a month back I was reading an article by Bookish that had a spring books preview. There was a contest where you could enter to win one, and I was really hoping that I would get Emma Donoghue's new book. Two weeks later, I had an advanced reading copy in hand (Thank you Bookish!!). I was thrilled. The book is set to be published in a couple weeks, on April 1.
I have mentioned before how much I enjoyed Emma Donoghue's previous best seller, Room. For those who don't know, this is a story of a woman who is held captive by her kidnapper. The book is told from the perspective of her five year old son, whom she has with her captor. This is admittedly the only novel by Donoghue that I've read, though she has published a number. Nonetheless, when I received the book, I was so excited to read it (and showed off my advanced copy to far too many people, few of whom actually understood my excitement).
Frog Music, which is set in 1870s San Francisco in the midst of an incredibly warm summer and a smallpox epidemic, takes up the story of a real historical figures. Jenny Bonnet, a fast-talking, pants wearing frog hunter befriends Blanche Beunon, a French burlesque dancer and prostitute. Beunon flees her maque Arthur, her pimp and boyfriend, and his friend Ernest, unwittingly leaving behind her infant son P'tit. Without money and without her son, Blanche follows Jenny outside of the city to plot her next move. Trouble follows, though, and through the window one night, Jenny is shot and killed. The story follows Blanche's quest to discover her friend's murderer.
Having recently finished and loved Kate Manning's My Notorious Life, which follows a strong, law-breaking woman in late 19th century New York City, I was taken quickly with the historical aspects and cursory descriptions of Jenny. The novel has a bit of French sprinkled throughout, which I enjoyed (gives me a chance to practice a little!). I do have a better picture of 1876 San Francisco - the ravaging impact of smallpox, the racial tension with Chinese immigrants, and the Gold Rush sentimentality. The novel, as the title suggests, has a musical orientation, and includes the lyrics from many songs of the period.
However, despite all of my excitement, even as I first sat down to read, I was unable to really get into the story. Part of the issue was, I didn't really like any of the characters. Also, the book started to get explicit. Blanche is a woman who loves sex and has quite a few rough encounters that are fairly hard-core. As I sat getting my haircut last weekend, I kept worrying that the hairdresser would see over my shoulder some of these graphic passages - I was just embarrassed by and uncomfortable with some of the content and these scenes had a distancing effect on Blanche.
At the end of the book was an interview with the author in which Donoghue remarks,
" Perhaps because I've spent several years now walking about Ma in Room - the heroic, almost saintly mother who protects her little boy - I couldn't resist the chance Blanche's story gave me to write about the ultimate bad mother: a selfish, promiscuous woman who farms out her baby and then mislays him"
So, my recommendation? Skip it.