Emma Donoghue’s eighth novel takes as its starting point the unsolved murder of historical figure Jenny Bonnet, a cross-dressing frog-catcher living in San Francisco in the 1870s. The murder mystery, however, is tangential to the real heart of the book. The protagonist is French émigré ‘Blanche’ Beunon, circus acrobat turned high-class prostitute and, more recently, mother; Jenny Bonnet is only the catalyst for dramatic change in Blanche’s life as she frees herself from a parasitic lover-pimp and fights for her child and independence. Two narrative strands – one opening on Jenny’s death and following Blanche in the aftermath; the other apprising us of preceding events – mount in parallel to the twin denouements that are the solution of the murder and Blanche’s acquisition of self-knowledge.
Unfortunately, some readers may not make it this far. The first quarter of Frog Music is as ‘frail’ – ‘a namby-pamby euphemism for selling it’ – as the women ‘of no character’ who people its pages. The drama of the post-murder