Tonight I finished reading Emma Donoghue's latest novel, Frog Music.
It's the story of Blanche Buenon, a former Parisian equestrian turned burlesque dancer/prostitute now living in San Francisco. Now, as in, 1876.
Blanche came to America with two men, Arthur and Ernest. All three of them were performers in the Cirque d'Hiver in France until Arthur fell from the trapeze, and the trio decided to switch gears and continents, and try for fortune in the wild west.
The story sort of blazes out on page one in media res. Blanche's friend Jenny is killed by a shotgun blast through the bedroom window, just as Blanche bends down to wrestle with her bootlaces. The bullets miss her by inches, and she is wounded by the flying glass.
Thus begins an intricate mystery -- Who pulled the trigger? And who was the intended target? Because of a series of incidents which the author will now flesh out for us -- Blanche is sure she knows the answer to these questions. Jenny has been murdered, and there can only be one reason why this happened.
The twist is, there can be many reasons. And many possible culprits.
For Emma Donoghue [an author I have grown to love and admire] this is her first foray into the genre of murder mystery. And in my opinion, she has succeeded in giving us a really suspense-filled page turner of a thriller, and here's the scoop -- all of it is based on actual events. She has taken liberties in certain areas, but most of what we find in Frog Music actually occurred in the heat-sweltering, smallpox-infested, bigotry-riddled, hate-mongerng, whore-infested city of San Francisco in that very year of 1876.
Her research of the facts is meticulous, and the writing style is unique. The author abruptly shifts the setting and time frames as frequently as Jose Saramago does not use proper punctuation. But, as is true of both of these great authors, the astute reader is never lost. Hence, I conclude that this is what I would call a literary thriller. And packed with as much raunchy bawdiness as would cause Chaucer to blush scarlet. A great, ripping damn good read.
And in the end, you do find out who pulled the trigger. But even then, motives and peripheral involvement are questionable. Debatable. Blanche herself doubts a lot of her own findings as she makes a new life for her and her infant son in Sacramento. The one sure thing is this -- if they have not shot you yet, you've got to keep on keeping on. You've got to keep living. You've got to make the best of what you have. There is still a lot of life -- to live.