Frog Music in San Francisco

Set in San Francisco 1876


“Frog Music” —Emma Donoghue’s first historical novel set in America — takes us to San Francisco in the boiling summer of 1876 and for a true life tale that shocked the city at the time and which in Frog Music is brought back to its seedy crime ridden life.

Crime, disease and racial violence are not the only things keeping this city aflame however, there are immigrants threatening to riot, a shaky atmosphere pervades the air and there is always the threat of a smallpox epidemic to contend with.

It is based loosely on the true  and unsolved crime  –  The San Miguel Mystery—the unsolved murder of 27-year-old Jenny Bonnett, a cross-dressing transgressive who worked as a frogcatcher – catching and selling frogs to French and Chinese restaurants.

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Find out more about Emma Donoghue’s research here –

Blanche , the narrator of the novel, and Jenny are two women striving to scrape a living in a turbulent and violent city. Blanche, formerly of the Parisian Cirque d’Hiver, is now an exotic dancer living with her pimp Arthur and his close friend Ernest. Blanche falls pregnant and is forced to place her son in a baby farm. This comes back to haunt her in more ways than one.

And who was the sole witness of Jenny’s murder in a railway saloon. Was Jenny really the target of the gunman or was it in fact Blanche herself?  Blanche sets out to solve the crime

Listen to the (old) song in the novel and still used today by mothers to send their babies to sleep –

Eclectic or what? And unbelievable if it weren’t based on true facts but the author captures not only the time and mood of the story but the setting in rich vivid detail. You can feel the sweat running down your own back as you read and the feather bower tickling your nose. There are also lots more songs included in the novel or mentioned. Infact we were ver pleased to see a song list of sorts at the back of the book. You definitely need to play this when reading this book. Talk about not only experiencing a place as the author did but to listen to the same music to put yu in the very spot musically too. In a novel about showtunes, dancing and music. Very clever.

In Frog Music,San Francisco is a  city on the edge, pushing itself to its very limits with regards to a epidemic, heat wave, racial tension and both poverty and crime.

The Golden Gate bridge - (c) the booktrail
The Golden Gate bridge – (c) the booktrail

On this seedy side of the city, despite the portrayal of the underbelly of such a  vibrant place as San Francisco there is an overwhelming vibrancy and lust for life as the characters charge headfirst in to danger and self destruction

Ladies and Gentleman. Welcome to San Francisco

4 thoughts on “Frog Music in San Francisco

    1. Do you know I am the only person in the world who hasnt read Room yet. The Sealed Letter was amazing and I enjoyed Frog Music so I hope you will too. Let me know what you think of it – I would be interested to know your thoughts

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