As if writing for a gripping cinematic mystery epic, Emma Donoghue delivers her best to date, "Frog Music". A novel set in San Francisco 1876, a time of extreme heat and delightful smallpox, and the drama is rather simple to start: a young dame, Jenny Bonnet, is shot dead.
Donoghue had us with her novel "Room," a novel written from the perspective of a 5-year old boy held captive in a small room with his mother. The novel was longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize and won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional prize (Caribbean and Canada); was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010 and was shortlisted for the 2010 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the 2010 Governor General's Awards -- just a quick few accolades snatched up really. But in her latest, she outdoes herself. She leaves behind her familiar, her trusted ways and dishes up something bold, raw-ish and fabulously fun -- whilst maintaining a very serious and noted literary merit.
Although Jenny is dead, she is survived by a friend aptly named Blanche Beunon (a burlesque dancer) determined to solve this crime of her dear friend's death. Blanche has a hunch about the identity of the killer, has no idea how to prove it but has in her life and lifestyle managed to gather enough savvy to at least attempt a Nancy Drew moment. It's a journey about love that dips into who Jenny really was, a "notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed" and who Blanche will become. Donoghue is not scared, not scared to expose herself and her characters to too much oxygen and then to thin out the air for the sake of her meander.
Donoghue's story is based on a real-life shooting of a smart-ass cross-dresser who supplied eating establishments with frog legs to make a living. If that doesn't jet an interesting premise for a story nothing will. But Donoghue is tender with it; she doesn't abuse the liberties. Her characters are real, you can smell their perfume and stink, and what makes the book even more delicious are all the peripheral characters that as much as disgust, thrill. They add a thickness to the broth and all you want to do is eat this forever.
Little, Brown and Company