Frog Music by Emma Donoghue.

Title: Frog Music
Author: Emma Donoghue
Originally Published: 2014
This is a top-shelf book.

0Small pox, heat waves, burlesque dancing, prostitution, baby farms, trapeze artists, equestrian circus performers, cross dressing, murder, alcohol, sex, mystery.

Do I have your attention yet? Rather, does Emma Donoghue?

I have yet to read Room by Donoghue (much to the dismay of almost everyone who has ever recommended a book to me) but when my work received a whole big box of these shiny new covers I figured I’ll give her new one a try. Besides, I’m a sucker for a circus – really – and I also saw hints of France and San Fransisco in the synopsis, two places I really want to go, and I was sold.

This novel is dazzling. It started off a little slow and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it. There was a moment, however, where something switched and I couldn’t put it down. Donoghue has a way of describing things that uses the most perfect detail with the most perfect adjectives, the most perfect colours (why say red when you can say scarlet?), and with a certain amount of bravery. I was there for it all, transported back in time to San Fransisco in the late eighteen hundreds, scared of the smallpox epidemic, dazzled by Blanche la Danseuse’s spectacular burlesque show, walking the overheated streets with sweat dripping down you. Sitting in my living room, I time travelled.

The book jumps back and forth between two time periods in the characters’ lives, only a month apart, and they start to creep closer together, filling in the gaps as you work your way through. The going back and forth is clear and easy to follow, unlike some other stories that have attempted this, and it doesn’t feel jumpy. It is suited to the story, the confusion and unease of everyone. Another stylistic point that I felt quite brilliant was the use of French when the characters were saying their dirtiest things. Don’t worry though – there’s a glossary at the back for translation purposes so that you can still gasp when you realize what things meant.

Well-researched, the characters use terminology from the time period and Donoghue doesn’t shy away from confusing her reader for a bit in the sake of keeping true to the era. Nothing a little research doesn’t fix, I assure you.

I was stunned by this novel. There were so many beautiful, terrible, seedy things happening I couldn’t wait to read the next page. Fantastically written, perfect in its delivery, and honourable to its characters – you couldn’t ask for me than that.

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