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Reviewed by Rich Follett for Readers' Favorite
Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music is as raucous and ebullient as its title implies. The cast of characters is a hardscrabble, resilient and eccentric never-say-die cast including Blanche, a French dance hall girl not entirely above selling her favors, a cross-dressing frog catcher named Jenny (hence, the amphibious title), a prematurely retired peacock shyster aerialist and his sycophantic partner in crime - all struggling to survive in smallpox-ridden San Francisco in 1876. When Jenny the frog catcher is murdered only inches away with buckshot that may have been intended for Blanche, a cat-and-mouse drama unfolds as Blanche tries both to solve the mystery and rescue Petit, her infant son who has been kidnapped as surety against her truthful testimony in court. The reversals in Frog Music are relentless and darkly fascinating. As read by Khristine Hvam, Emma Donaghue’s portentous, serpentine third-person narrative has the feel of a turn-of-the-century penny dreadful or a ‘read-all-about-it’ headline - exactly the kind of ‘can’t-look-away’ allure that causes good people to rubberneck at the scene of a car crash.
Frog Music is a rare treat in that it is truly divergent from the vast majority of popular fiction. The characters are wickedly eccentric, complex, and drawn in the most fascinating strokes imaginable. The narrative is uncompromising and compelling. The tension is ratcheted up in unexpected ways that border on the perverse. Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music demands that we look head-on at things and people that we would normally view only in sidelong glances. As a result, it is an unforgettable and eminently worthwhile read.