Frog Music

Little, Brown. Apr. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780316324687. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316324663. F
OrangeReviewStarClothes make the man, it's said, but don't tell that to Jenny Bonnet, the cross-dressing, frog-catching, gun-toting antiheroine of Donoghue's genre-defying new novel, set in late 1800s California. When the inimitable Jenny loses control of her high-wheel bicycle, riding smack into prostitute and exotic dancer Blanche Beunon, something extraordinary happens: Blanche discovers female friendship. Viewing her life through Jenny's lens, Blanche finds her fantasy world evaporating. Her lover Arthur Deneve, a gambler and a dandy, is nothing more than her pimp. And where, Blanche wonders, did he really take the little boy she gave birth to a year ago? Donoghue's evocative language invades the senses with the sights and smells of Chinatown, the frying food, boisterous saloons, even the sickrooms of victims of the smallpox epidemic. Readers won't quickly forget this rollicking, fast-paced novel, which is based on a true story and displays fine bits of humor with underlying themes of female autonomy and the right to own one's sexual identity.
VERDICT A murder mystery, a feminist manifesto, and a human interest story, this will likely be compared to Donoghue's well-received Slammerkin, but it was her blockbuster, Room, soon to be a major motion picture, that made Donoghue a book group darling. Expect lots of requests. [See Prepub Alert, 10/4/13.]
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