It’s always great to have to chance to go to the launch of a new book, so on Sunday evening, Team Adventures With Words made our way into London, to the “House of Mirrors” and the launch of Frog Music, the latest novel from Emma Donoghue.
Donoghue is probably best known for her hugely popular contemporary novel Room, and has recently written the story collection Astray, based on snippets of newspaper stories, but in Frog Music, she takes a step back in time and across the Atlantic.
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heatwave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman called Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice – if he doesn’t track her down first.
The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.
In thrilling, cinematic style, Frog Music digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boom town like no other.
In this instance, the House of Mirrors in question was not in San Francisco but an underground bar house in a former tea warehouse near London Bridge, decorated in a sumptuous, decadent 1920’s/Chinese style – think the opening Hong Kong sequence of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. We were treated to a Prohibition-inspired ‘tea’ cocktail in a tin mug and made our way downstairs, to enjoy the evening. Emma Donoghue treated us to a reading from the opening of Frog Music, then there was entertainment from the fabulous Miss Polly Hoops, a hula hoop burlesque performer, then we had a final reading, from Emma as Blanche and an actress reading the role of Jenny Bonnet.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the two readings certainly got our attention. The first section was, shall we say, quite grown-up in content, and the second, the conversation between Blanche and Jenny was great, the dialogue flowing smoothly with plenty of wit. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the book for myself. Have a look at the gallery…
A huge thank you to Lauren Welch and Picador for inviting us.