I entirely understand those readers of Room who were not fans of Frog Music. I wouldn’t read Room on a bet, because it is a “ripped from the headlines” bit of trash that I will always believe the author wrote to fulfill a contract with a publisher that accidentally seized the mind of those sorts of readers that don’t understand literature and think that “Bestseller” equals “good.”
Prior to Room, Donoghue wrote about the LGBTQ underground in Victorian times; following lesbian romances conducted under threat of death if discovered, the pain of illicit love, the bravery of dressing as a man in a world that thoroughly condemned it. She brought to life a time period much examined, but from a point of view few had considered previously.
The constricting language is the language of the time, the violence amongst and against the poor and dispossessed were all too real, even as the Victorians, masters of pretense, behaved as if none of this were true. Thus, Frog Music takes us back to her original themes, focusing on an unsolved murder during the Gold Rush days in San Francisco, just as the smallpox epidemic is beginning. I did not find the language tedious, nor did I find the characters unlikable. I found them perfectly placed in time. If anything, the novel’s primary limitation is that very little is known of the woman who was murdered, which makes building her story challenging and results in there being less depth to that character than I would have liked to see. 3.5 stars.