The Frog King
By Adam Davies
Full Disclaimer! This author was my professor in college and there are no frogs.
I’ve read this one before! However, it fits my parameters—to read/reread every book currently on my bookshelf! (So far, 4 down and 174 to go! I was given a few more books just days ago. Yay!) Also, The Frog King won the Twitter poll placed in this post by a pretty wide margin.
Since I’ve read Davies’ The Frog King, here’s what I remembered about it before I began reading. Answer: almost nothing. It’s been about four years since I last read this book, and I read it pretty fast the first time on top of so much college shoved into my head that some details simply got squeegeed out. I couldn’t even remember the narrator’s name. This is why we take notes, people! Onwards!
Harry Driscoll, our main character and mental gymnast, is dead sick of his going-nowhere, underpaid job. It’s obvious from page three. Harry Driscoll also hates himself. I also hate Harry Driscoll. This is a one-way street with no U-turns in sight. Which brings me to my dilemma with The Frog King. The characters are amazingly well-written. No, seriously, I don’t just say that to make my former professor remember me fondly. Harry is so good at being the woe-is-me, head-in-the-sand, know-it-all jerk that you’ll probably spend most of the book in hopes something terrible happens to him. (Don’t worry.)
Evie is a doll in all meanings of the word. She’s a great woman character with her own problems and strengths and weaknesses, and she’s probably the only reason I didn’t toss the book a few different times. Yes, Harry Driscoll will make you that mad. He’s the worst type of jerk for a big chunk of the novel: the kind of sleazeball you pray to god you don’t have to work a shift with because a) they get nothing done except complaining about their job and believing the work is beneath them, b) think they’re god’s gift to womankind, and c) they somehow manage to make you feel bad about yourself while being ironic/sarcastic/condescending towards themselves in the “Haha, isn’t life just a peach” way. Your problems and feelings will never amount to theirs. Harry is all this and more with an unhealthy dose of alcohol and self-hatred to boot. This is a man so emotionally constipated you’ll want to lace his coffee with a strong laxative. Fun!
Okay, okay. He’s not all pig all the time—even dirtbags can have a few good qualities—but it’s frequent enough to be lethal in large quantities. Kind of like nuclear radiation. As I said before, don’t worry! Harry gets what’s coming to him. This isn’t some “jerks finish first” story, but boy, oh boy, get ready to feel patronized by a fictional character.
Harry certainly stirs the emotions, but not the right ones for the majority of the novel. Well-crafted character? A+. Likable character? Eh. Maybe a motivational template for how not to conduct yourself.
I try and keep this blog series as spoiler free as I can while also giving myself free reign to talk about the books I read, so I’ll move on to one other aspect.
The Frog King is going to make you learn many new vocabulary words whether you want to or not. That’s just the way the narrator—you guessed it—Harry is. It’s how he thinks and roughly communicates. A facsimile of communication, but a point or two for trying, I guess. So accept that before reading, maybe even look forward to it, and grab a dictionary.
Now the vocabulary, while impressive, does actually take away from scenes sometimes. The writing kind of jumps back and forth from enjoyable, witty, and smooth into wording that’s meant to show character but really your eyes just trip over. It will happen. No way around it. And it does knock off some enjoyability of the book.
The writing style is actually pretty different to what I’m used to. Davies is raw and eclectic in the way that even if you are bumbling along with—or mentally throwing knives at—the narrator, you still have a good sense of location and emotional intelligence in the scene. You certainly aren’t going to be bored with his descriptions or dialogue.
Typically, The Frog King isn’t my kind of book. I like my fiction with a bit more, well, fiction. This book tackles it all in the real world: alcoholism, narcissism, infidelity, and even gaslighting to some extent. I know the subtitle says “a love story,” but take that with a gulp of sea water.
Overall thoughts on The Frog King? I think I still dislike Harry Driscoll enough to leave this book on the shelf until some other victim wanders by and hears the Jumanji drums, but I like Adam Davies enough as a writer to see what else he comes up with. Maybe next time I’ll ingest his words with a glass of wine?