Title: Frog Music
Author: Emma Donoghue
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Content Alert: Graphic and highly creative sex scenes, language, violence
It's the unseasonably hot summer of 1876 in San Francisco, where Blanche Beunon is a former circus performer, a burlesque dancer and sometimes whore, has just made her first girl friend, Jenny Bonnet, a fellow French immigrant who wears pants and catches frogs for a living. Meeting Jenny is a turning point in Blanche's life-- she's no longer complacent about the "farm" her lover sent their one-year-old son to live on when she was so sick after his birth. In fact, she's no longer so sure that she event wants to be with her mooching lover or his best friend (they're kind of a package deal). In the course of a few weeks, she regains her son, then loses her lover, then loses her son (literally, not through death), and loses the building she has bought, and then, hiding out on the outskirts of town, Jenny dies from a bullet she's pretty sure was intended for her.
The narrative structure of the book is a bit frenetic, with lots of jumping back and forth in time, and the afterword to the story is heartbreaking (the story is, if you can believe it, based in fact-- both Jenny and Blanche were real people). And there is lots, and lots, and lots of sex of every imaginable variety of pairings. For me, the most unbelievable part of the story was Blanche's command of English-- for someone who didn't speak the language at all a year earlier when she arrived in America, she had mastered the language well. Maybe all of that pillow talk was a great way to learn. This is only the second novel I've read by Donoghue (whose novel, Room, was a fascinating, shocking read a few years ago). I read somewhere that she has a PhD in gender studies (or maybe it's women's studies), and it feels a bit like she tries to tackle a different women's issue in each of her novels. As an exploration of female sexuality and friendship, this one works, but I'm not so sure about how some of the smaller details come together.