I Think This Counts as CanLit: Frog Music

Two summers ago I was blown away by Emma Donogue’s Room. I definitely wasn’t the only one. I remember reading it in the car on a road trip, holding my breath, not paying attention to anything else. I was haunted by it afterwards. Even now, when I think about that book, I shiver remembering how messed up it was.

Messed up but totally brilliant, obviously.

Donoghue released Astray shortly after I read Room but I didn’t read it. And then Frog Music happened. Partially seduced by brilliant cover art (on either side of the border), a little bit because the Internet told me to read it, and then some more by the idea of the actual story.

Canadian edition

Blanche Beunon is a burlesque dancer in 1870s San Francisco. She lives with her partner, Arthur and his really good close personal friend, Ernest in an apartment in a building that she owns. On her way home after a show one night she’s almost run over by a bicycle ridden by one Jenny Bonnet, a men’s clothes wearing, free spirited frog catcher, fresh out of a stint in jail for wearing men’s clothes. Blanche invites Jenny home with her and so the story takes off.

A month after their meeting, Jenny is shot dead and Blanche embarks on a quest to find out who did it, while fearing for her own life and trying to find her infant son.

Obviously this book isn’t Room, but it’s good. Donoghue is amazing at stage setting; this book takes place in the middle of a heat wave and I swear you can feel the stifling air as you read. San Francisco in 1876 comes to life before your eyes: the dying days of the California Gold Rush; the freedom that all kinds of ‘different’ people are finding in this city where anything goes; the lives of millionaires rubbing up against the struggles of the poorest; the festering air and fear of a smallpox epidemic ripping through the city. Music is also infused and brought to life in this book, like it was in Room. Songs that were popular in the days described are littered throughout the narrative.USA edition

I didn’t care for most of the characters in this one but I loved Jenny. I thought she was a totally original character (based on a real person) who brought out some of the better characteristics of the people around her. Until she meets Jenny, Blanche is a self-centered princess, more intent on living a life of comfort than concerning herself with the living conditions of a son she’s farmed out to god knows where. But even though most of the characters are horrible, it doesn’t take away from the book in any way. They work in the time they are living through.

Ultimately, what happened to Jenny is really sad. Donoghue found a way to give Jenny a completely tragic ending that is completely perfect. I found myself comparing it to Room a lot, which was probably unfair. But in this case, Frog Music stands up on it’s own.

And hey! Emma Donoghue lives in Canada (even though she’s Irish) so does this mean I’ve found a CanLit book that I’ve enjoyed?


I’m in Book Buying Rehab

You know how, in the past, I have imposed book bans on myself in an attempt to stop spending so much money in bookstores and read the books I already own?

Yesterday my other half put me on a book buying ban.

To be fair, in recent weeks my book habit has completely spiraled out of control. I can barely function on a day where I don’t go and throw down some money for my next hit. And it’s not like I have more time to read the ones that I already have. I just can’t stop. There are so many great books out there right now! These poor books were probably so excited to come home with me, looking forward to the moment when I jumped into their stories, eagerly anticipating the chance to share their magic with me.

And what did I do? I pushed them aside in favour of another book that caught my eye. A book that I felt was more important than the others, in that moment.

On my kitchen table there are at least 10 books that I’ve brought home with me in the last two weeks or so. Those are the books that I haven’t even shelved yet. That’s in addition to the stack of 5 on my bedside table and all the others that continue to sit on my bookshelves unloved and unread.

On my birthday, we went to the bookstore (obviously) and I came out with: The Count of Monte Cristo, which is my friend’s favourite book and I’ve always meant to read it; Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight because it mentioned Gone Girl on the cover and if something says it’s like Gone Girl, game over, you’re mine; Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin because this is the second Inspector Rebus book and it was the first time I’d seen it.

Then I got a gift certificate to the bookstore from a friend for my birthday (who knows and loves me so well) and I can’t hold onto that for any period of time so back I went. That time I was good. I only picked up Eva Stachniak’s Empress of the Night because I was going to see her at an event at the library that week; and Frog Music by Emma Donoghue because I took this quiz on Buzzfeed which told me that this was the book I was meant to read this spring.book pile

I don’t even remember when I picked up Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman but it’s been on my list for forever so I’m glad I could read it tomorrow if I wanted to. I’d been waiting for Paris: A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd to show up in paperback and when it did: mine. We’d talked about my frustration at discovering that Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman should have followed The Redeemer, not The Devil’s Star but I hadn’t managed to find it. Until a few days ago.

Then two nights ago we were in Costco and you know what happens there. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (look at me reading more YA fiction!) and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell were in my hands before I even realized it. I almost brought home Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power but I knew I was already pushing my luck.

And all of those are in addition to the books I already had to read at home. Night Film, Claire Tomlin’s Charles Dickens biography, a biography of Princess Louise, War and Peace, Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley and A Winter’s Tale are all still sitting at home waiting for me.

Did I mention that I got my sister to lend me The Bone Season?

I’m out of control. I need some book rehab.