Book Review: Frog Music By Emma Donoghue (Why You MUST Read It!)
Whether you’re going on holiday, chilling by the pool or simply watching the raindrops from your window, a good book is your ideal companion. And this one by award-winning Irish writer Emma Donoghue will not disappoint. Read on to find out why we’ve fallen in love with it.
The past tends to be romanticised as a better, more peaceful, simpler time. Frog Music, set in 1876, in San Francisco refutes that point. It is a reminder that humans have always been opportunistic, cruel and callous. You’re sure to recognise an acquaintance or two in the unsavoury but exotic and interesting protagonists, Blanche Beunon, an exotic dancer and prostitute, Arthur, her lover and leach and Ernest, his bosom pal who lives with them and completes this ménage à trois. She dances in the Hall of Mirrors and is the most popular act in town, while Arthur and his hanger on Ernest claim to be bohemians and spend the day investing in shady schemes and gambling away her earnings, while she smiles on fondly.
It is into this cosy situation that Jenny Bonnet one day tumbles, on her highwheel bicycle. A cross dresser who catches frogs and sells them to restaurants for a living, she is the kind of person we’d all love to count among friends. Feisty and fearless, she asks Blanche a couple of questions that have the effect of slowly tearing her world apart and reminding her that she has an infant son she’s paying someone else to raise. And before you know it, their friendship gives her the strength to see her life for what it is, and to make a change. The book opens with Jenny being shot to death in her bed and then the story weaves back and forth between present and past, filling you in on the details. Many of Donoghue’s stories touch upon lesbianism and this one is no exception. You’re left wondering about Jenny’s secrets and her sexuality, even while Donoghue does nothing to clarify. It’s also a reminder that more than a hundred years later, homosexuals are still facing prejudices.
Donoghue makes no excuses for her characters and their flaws. Neither does she judge them. Blanche isn’t someone who was forced into the trade. She enjoys sex and makes no bones about it. Her lover doesn’t pimp her out, she isn’t forced to give him the money, and she likes indulging and petting him. She is not forced into staying away from her baby, but part of a system that allows working parents, be they single or a couple to stay at work, no matter how callous it seems through the lens of present times.
Frog Music paints a vivid picture of San Francisco as it was, bustling with foreigners, struck by a heat wave, horse dung on the streets horse dung on the streets and bars and brothels with unsavoury sorts spilling out of them.
The only thing constant about Donoghue’s writing is that it never fails to captivate you and that no two books look, feel or sound the same. From her bestseller, Room, about a child born in captivity and his mother, to Hood, a lesbian love story to The Sealed Letter, based on a real life incident in 1860s Britain, Donoghue’s topics are varied and her voice fresh. While her effortless writing, lucid descriptions and storytelling skills are enough to recommend this book, it is like many of her others, born of a stray fact that she researched tirelessly and thoroughly, finished off with a bit of artistic license. If you enjoy prose that reads like poetry, she’s the writer for you.
Price: Rs 599
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
Pick up your copy of Frog Music from Flipkart or at a Crossword store in your city.