Monday, August 25, 2014
"Frog Music" by Emma Donoghue
But, because the world works like it does, there was an interesting connection as protagonist Blanche's "awakening" to the reality of her life comes from her realizing her feelings for her mostly abandoned child. Though I couldn't connect on that front, I did find the descriptions of her abused and neglected child especially hard to read and could empathize with feeling love and utter incompetence in equal measure.
Frog Music, however, is really the story of two women in 1876 San Francisco: Blanche, an erotic dancer and upscale prostitute; and Jenny, a rabble-rouser who wears pants despite the law. They're both interesting characters for defying basic stereotypes. Though Blanche's attachment to her deadbeat lover Arthur may be nothing new, her nearly insatiable sexual appetite is something rarely portrayed in female characters. And Jenny is not only unusual for her early feminism but also for her atypical friendship with Blanche. Both have intriguing pasts as well (for example, Blanche was a circus performer), but those pasts disappointingly remain fairly hazy.
The counterpoint to these two women is Arthur and Ernest, former acrobatic partners. Their love--or, at least, Ernest's love for Arthur--is probably the strongest in the book, and I almost would have liked to hear more about their relationship.
In fact, there were many places where more of the characters could have been explored, but instead the novel felt weighted with repetitive worries from Blanche: conflicting feels about Arthur or her baby or Jenny. These got repeated so often (and she was delirious from not eating so often) as to lose their impact.
And the great mystery around Jenny's murder, which forms the premise of the book, also seemed to drag, rather than engulf, the reader.
Donoghue's working with great characters, and Frog Music is certainly not dull, but I don't think Donoghue used what she had as well as she could.