Title: Before You Knew My Name
Author: Jacqueline Bublitz
Published: May 4th 2021
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Crime, Mystery
Rating: 3.5 stars
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.
‘If I tell you my story. If I let you know what happened to me. Maybe you’ll see who I was. Who I am. Maybe you’ll like the truth of me better, and maybe you’ll wish this for every dead girl from now on. The chance to speak for herself, to be known for more than her ending.’
Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz, is a book that promises to be an alternative ‘dead girl’ story. A progressive tale that takes a violent crime against a woman into uncharted territory through the use of a posthumous narrator, Before You Knew My Name is a lyrical and dramatic story from an experimental writer.
Closely following two women, one alive and one deceased, Before You Knew My Name explores the connection between these two strangers over the course of this affective tale. We learn that Alice Lee has only been living in New York a short time before she is found murdered. With authorities unable to trace her identity, Alice becomes a classic Jane Doe. We are also acquainted with Ruby Jones, another newcomer to New York City. When Ruby stumbles across Alice’s dead body in the Hudson River, she finds her life irrevocably changed after this gruesome discovery. An unusual connection is forged between Ruby and Alice, which in turn helps to solve Alice’s murder. But Ruby cannot put Alice aside and the discovery of Alice’s body continues to haunt this young woman. Ruby realises she must be the one to put Alice’s ghost to rest. A story of life, death, loss and connections, Before You Knew My Name is a mindful novel from a fresh voice in contemporary fiction.
Jacqueline Bublitz, the author of Before You Knew My Name, spent a summer in New York visiting various morgues and city parks. These experiences formed the basis of Bublitz’s debut release, which has received plenty of positive buzz since it’s release. I would love to visit New York for the summer, but I can’t say I would actively seek out a visit to a city morgue or the dark corners of some of the city’s most unsafe parks. However, I did find my interest and curiosity in this book was initially very high, especially as a number of other reviewers I follow rated it very highly. On the whole there were many areas of this novel that I respected and I was able to find great value in. But I will be honest and openly state that the slow pace of this book made Before You Knew My Name a challenging novel to read.
There is no doubt about it, Jacqueline Bublitz knows how to write and she does it very well. For a debut novelist, Bublitz’s writing is poised, spaced, measured, expressive, critical and most of all, it is full of torment. I felt everything the characters experienced on a strong emotional level. This is a tricky feat, but Bublitz manages to pull it off. There is much to appreciate about the way in which Bublitz composes a sentence, paragraph and chapter. I’m also very respectful of the intent of this book. I think that Before You Knew My Name has a valuable place in our publishing sphere right now. This novel is hard hitting, timely and topical. I noted in the author’s bio that this first-time writer is a feminist. There is a clear feminist slant to this different to the norm crime tale, that many readers out there will value. I think the messages that are conveyed in Before You Knew My Name in respects to male violence, power, authority and the trauma that results are essential. We definitely need more books that are willing to bravely take on this narrative direction and tackle such moving themes. Bublitz has crossed important territory with her first novel.
I did like the device of using a posthumous narrator, Alice’s voice comes across as loud and clear. Bubtlitz is able to interchange this deceased narrator’s voice well with Ruby, the woman who finds Alice’s dead body. There was a darkness, melancholy and sense of regret that follows both female narrators. I cared about Ruby’s welfare and I wanted Ruby to overcome her trauma. In Alice, there is sadness, frustration and anger abound. It is hard not to get caught up in the search for justice for Alice’s killer. Bublitz tackles this area of her novel with a sense of urgency and importance.
For those who are seeking a crime novel that looks at the mechanics of the case and the investigation efforts, Before You Knew My Name is not that kind of novel. This is a story that relies heavily on the inner workings of a character’s mind and thought patterns. In Before You Knew My Name, there is a strong focus on the victim impact component, as well as the resulting trauma from discovering a body. I did find the overall narration style and plodding pace hard to wade through. I have a fast-reading style in general and this did not match Before You Knew My Name. I got quite frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere with this novel at times! There seemed to be a lot of page time devoted to build up and introspection, rather than movement. However, I would like to stress that due to the many glowing reviews for Bublitz’s book, this may not affect other readers.
Before You Knew My Name is a book that takes an all important look at the victim of a murder case, their life story, the loved ones they leave behind and those who are touched by their passing. A well observed literary composition that goes beyond the standard crime fiction offering, Before You Knew My Name is a conflicting read.
Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz was published on 4th May 2021 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Before You Knew My Name, Jacqueline Bublitz, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Before You Knew My Name is book #45 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge