Sunday, 29 June 2014

Book Review - 'Frog Music' by Emma Donoghue

This is novel as by way of the Can-Can; if not physically demanding then intellectually so. Words perform high-kicks revealing a momentary flash of undergarment, a tantalising glimpse of flesh, a suggestion of the erotic. The energy manifests itself in an almost cinematic way. The novel feels as though it should be a play or movie. It has a hustle and bustle transposed onto its pages that exudes realism to it specifically when crowds are present. You can literally feel elbows pushing against you, shoulders barging against your own, and the sickly smell of beer on hot breath as conversations whip and crack. It is this sense of being part of a community looking on at events as they happen that brings a charm of conflict that captivates.

1876. San Francisco. A town on the cusp. A town not yet a city. A city in the making. French and Chinese, Dutch and English colliding into chaos. A libertarian life where individual freedom comes at a cost. Life is cheap and flesh is easily bought. Smallpox is raging along the streets claiming those who do not find medication. Yellow sheets are hung on doorways in warning. It is like the plague of of London, like 1666 has found a foot hold in the burgeoning, blossoming promise of America.

There is not a whiff of cowboy here, no gunfights even if knives flash occasionally.The big fear is not a sense of lawlessness but that damn pox. There is however, murder.
Blanche is a dancer. She performs exotic moves that move men in erotic ways. Blanche has a lover who has friend, more than just a friend, they form a perfect trio. But Blanche also has a son, a tiny mite, malformed and placed in some dingy, dirty hovel of a home. Arthur, Blanche's amour, contracts the pox. His face scabs over. His sins grow scars.Then Jenny arrives, Jenny on the Penny Farthing, Jenny who dresses like a man, Jenny who asks questions about the child, Jenny who gets shot to death, blown to pieces before Blanche’s eyes whilst in their small room.

More than a historical novel, much more than a thriller, ‘Frog Music’ is a story of humankind when offered the possibility of a fresh slate, a new start. Emma Donoghue writes with a vivid pen her stories to tell. She incorporates every ounce of emotion she can squeeze into the telling. She takes, having studied real life which then gets placed neatly in situ, a rich array of individuals whose forms she fills with flawed characteristics. Mankind’s weaknesses and strengths are considered then displayed in lurid detail.  It is this depiction in literary style set against a background of an America still going through its growing pains that sets this book ahead of the pack. 

Emma’s writing prances like a foal in the spring sunshine, like a shoal of silver fish in summer waters..She flits between times cutting back and forth by only a matter only of days and as she does so the characters gain flesh, the story additional pace and tension and the mystery, for one there is, unravels It has zest and gusto but more than that it has compassion.  It wears its humanity large upon its pages and makes for a fine read. The most interesting detail though comes with the afterword. The fiction is based on real events and real people. The amount of research Emma must have undertaken in order to be able to put the meat onto the bones of scant historical events had to be painstaking. This is one of the books of 2014 and surely in line for some award or another?

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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