Listening to Frog Music: A Review

Listening to Frog Music

Jenny Bonnet is an eccentric young woman, who has been jailed for wearing men’s clothing andhunts frogs in 1870’s San Francisco. In the summer of 1876, Bonnet was shot and killed at a saloon at the San Miguel Railroad Station. The shot was fired through a window and the subsequent search for the murderer is the basis of the mystery.

The survivor is Jenny’s companion, Blanche Beunon, a French burlesque dancer and prostitute. Over the next few days, Blanche desperately tries everything to discover and bring Jenny’s murderer to justice, and is never sure who the intended victim really was (the bullet narrowly missing her), so she is afraid he may track her down and kill her first. The search leads Blanche through desperate paupers, free-love bohemians, and arrogant millionaires. She also finds the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed in men’s clothes: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.
FROG MUSIC is a novel based on a factual long-forgotten, never-solved crime. It is full of songs that migrated across the world, and captures the pulse of boom town San Francisco. Author Emma Donoghue clearly researched the engaging historical detail of the time, illuminating the underside of life.

Ironically, in the city that was to become a mecca for LGBT people, Jenny dressed as a man, and in that era cross-dressing could result in prison. Jenny is carefree, and somewhat reckless. She is not the typical demure woman of her time.

However, Blanche fits that role more easily. She works as a dancer and entertains men on the side to support her “fancy man” Arthur. Their one-year-old baby, P’Tit had been sent to the country to be raised. But Blanche loves sex and has quite a few rough encounters that are fairly hard-core.

One night, Blanche runs away from Arthur,her pimp and boyfriend. Blanche follows Jenny outside of the city to plan what she is going to do next. During the month since Blanche met Jenny, her view of life has completely changed. While she was once content to earn a living for her lover Arthur and his friend Earnest, she finds herself fascinated with Jenny. But after Jenny is murdered, Blanche discovers that perhaps she really didn’t know Jenny at all because she learns many things about her.

The novel depicts an authentic view of1876 San Francisco: the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and asmallpox epidemic, the racial tension with Chinese immigrants, and the GoldRush sentimentality. There is a horrifying account of real baby farms, where Blanche finds homes in the business of tending infantsand children for money, frequently keeping them in appalling conditions. The view of the underside of the glittering post gold rush San Francisco is shown in detail.
This novel also depicts women struggling against the confining societal norms in which they find themselves. Yet, these women must make a living in a world thats ees their value in very strictly defined ways. There are some graphic sexual scenes and women’s sexuality and a women’s role in this time and place is definitely a theme. References are provided at the end of the book, including the origins of the songs sung by the characters.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, FROG MUSIC author Emma Donoghue writes contemporary and historical fiction. Her novels include the bestselling”Slammerkin,” “The Sealed Letter,” “Landing,””Life Mask,” “Hood,” and “Stirfry.” Her story collections are “The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits,” “Kissing the Witch,” and “Touchy Subjects.” She lives in London, Ontario,with her partner and their two small children.


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