All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

on May 25, 2021

Before You Knew My Name
Jacqueline Bublitz
Allen & Unwin
2021, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}: This is not just another novel about a dead girl.

When she arrived in New York on her 18th birthday carrying nothing but $600 cash and a stolen camera, Alice Lee was looking for a fresh start. Now, just one month later, she is the city’s latest Jane Doe, an unidentified murder victim.

Ruby Jones is also trying to start over; she travelled halfway around the world only to find herself lonelier than ever. Until she finds Alice’s body by the Hudson River.

From this first, devastating encounter, the two women form an unbreakable bond. Alice is sure that Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her life – and death. And Ruby – struggling to forget what she saw that morning – finds herself unable to let Alice go. Not until she is given the ending she deserves.

Before You Knew My Name doesn’t ask whodunnit. Instead, this powerful, hopeful novel asks: Who was she? And what did she leave behind? The answers might surprise you.

This was a really interesting novel.

Both Alice Lee and Ruby Jones arrive in New York on the same day, from very different areas and via different means although in some ways their reasoning for being there is similar. Alice is barely 18, having met that milestone on the bus from Wisconsin. Alice is thirty-six and has quit her job in Melbourne Australia, to live in New York for six months to escape a romantic entanglement that has always been toxic. Although they will never meet, the two will be tied together inextricably forever when Ruby, jogging in a park early morning, discovers Alice’s dead body just weeks after they both arrive in New York.

A lot of the time, novels featuring a crime like this are focused on who did it, or the police trying to solve it. This isn’t the focus in this novel. Instead it’s much more on Ruby’s discovery of Alice’s body and the impact on her. Alice has no ID on her and is new in the city so for several weeks, she becomes a Jane Doe. Ruby feels really strongly about finding her identity, as well as finding out who did this to her and why but it’s more tied to justice for Alice herself, knowing who she is and what her story was. How did she come to be in New York, why was she in that fatal place? For Ruby, it leads her to a circle of people that become friends in a foreign city and also empowers her to change her life, shed the chains of her toxic love and move forward.

Mostly this book is told from Alice’s perspective, even after she’s murdered She’s the presence in the background, steering and guiding best she can, so that she might be known. She unfolds her tragic past for the reader, her nomadic childhood, the trauma of loss and then behaviour that can only be described as deeply predatory. When that goes wrong, it’s why Alice flees to New York with just a stolen vintage camera and $600 to her name. When Alice’s body is found, she’s “young, pretty and white enough” for it to make significant headlines, especially as she is not easily identified. There’s quite a bit about that phenomenon in the book, which I’ve actually read about before as well, how murder cases or instances are violent crime, are much more likely to gain media traction if the victim looks a certain way and fits a certain narrative.

For quite a bit of this book, I found it incredibly gripping and the interesting way that it was written definitely made me want to know more. But there were also other times where I felt the story was lagging a little or struggling to move forward. A lot of Ruby’s struggle not related to finding Alice became tedious – especially the dilemma of the lover back in Australia which she knew she needed to move on from. It takes Ruby so long to realise that not only is this situation not good for her, has never been good for her but the person himself, isn’t worth it either. I’m not sure if Ruby had dreams of him leaving his fiancee and declaring that she was the one all along and I just lost a bit of patience with her allowing him back into her life – what’s the point of going all the way to New York and literally not getting a number he didn’t have? She might as well have just stayed in Melbourne.

What I did like was the focus on Ruby’s trauma after finding Alice’s body, which is quite under-represented in fiction dealing with murder. What must it have been like, to find that battered body in the river and wonder if only you’d gotten there a bit earlier, pointless thoughts but ones that would haunt a person nonetheless. Alice (as Jane Doe) haunts Ruby, giving her nightmares and consuming her thoughts, so much so that the thought of seeking help, delivered by a well-meaning police officer, eventually becomes an option that Ruby acts upon. It introduces her to the Death Club, and I really liked the inclusion of that.

The book provided me with a satisfying ending, which came together well (with even a bit of suspense to raise your heart rate although Ruby, honestly took way too long to come to the conclusion she needed to) and I enjoyed the idea a lot. However there were those times where I felt it definitely stagnated a little, a few times with Alice describing her relationship with Noah (a part of the book I’m still not 100% sure about, it definitely gave me a few weird feelings) and also Ruby’s laying around New York doing nothing, thinking about her lover and her occasional dips back into this after she finds the body.

A debut with a really intriguing premise and the writing was certainly beautiful in parts. I’d definitely be interested in reading more from Jacqueline Bublitz in the future.


Book #82 of 2021

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