Review: Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

Title: Before You Knew My Name

Author: Jacqueline Bublitz

Published: 5th May 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

On the same day that eighteen year old Alice Lee stepped off a bus from Wisconsin into the hustle of New York City hoping for a fresh start, thirty six year old Ruby Jones flew into New York from Melbourne seeking the same. Barely four weeks later, Ruby finds the battered half naked body of a nameless young girl while jogging along the Hudson River. Her name is Alice Lee.

“Her body was found by a jogger. Such a famous line. Two anonymous women connected by just seven words. Just how close had they come to each other that morning? Close enough to change roles, play each other’s parts?”

Before You Knew My Name is narrated by Alice, whose spirit still lingers after her death. She tells both her own story and that of Ruby, two women who find each other by chance, or perhaps it’s fate. Alice’s voice is achingly poignant as she asks to be heard, to be known.

“…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. Wouldn’t that be something. After everything we’ve lost.”

Bublitz deliberately centers Alice in the story, not her murder, nor her murderer. Everyone can name a serial killer, probably a dozen, but few will remember their victims names, or anything but the barest details about them, except for how they died. Here Bublitz ensures we know Alice, a bright, curious young woman who, despite experiencing hardship and tragedy, has hopes and dreams for her future.

“She does not know how to be this other person. How to be someone who discovered a body.”

Ruby, already lost, is further disoriented by discovering the body. She finds herself reevaluating her own sense of safety. She relives her own shock and fear, and dwells on the horror of what she imagines of Alice’s last moments. She thinks about what sort of man could beat, strangle and rape a girl. And then, finally she begins to wonder about the girl. Helping to identify Alice, learning about her, gives Ruby the purpose, and connection she came to New York to find.

“There is no name to be spoken, but I am recognised by each of the women present, clasped around their lifted hands, heavy on their hearts. I am their fears, and their lucky escapes, their anger, and their wariness. I am their caution and their yesterdays, the shadow version of themselves all those nights they have spent looking over shoulders, or twining keys between fingers.”

Much of the novel speaks to women’s experience, particularly of men. Not just how we are reduced by them, as Alice is by her killer, or how we choose to reduce ourselves, like Ruby does for her lover, but also how society reduces female victims of violence, designating some worthy, and others not. Both Alice and Ruby are women we recognise, in ourselves, and in others.

“I wanted to start over. I wanted to disappear. But that’s not the same as being forgotten. To be clear, I never, ever wanted that.”

An impressive debut, this is ultimately a story of a life, not a death. I found Before You Knew My Name to be eloquent, deeply moving, and insightful.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

11 thoughts on “Review: Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

  1. Wonderful review; you make me want to read the book even though it’s not my usual fare. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be published in the U.S., which is surprising given the setting. (For US readers: You can buy the paperback through Book Depository, but it’s around $33.)


  2. This sounds really intense, but exceptional. Victims of such attacks always seem to end up being put on trial themselves (what was she wearing, why was she out at night, etc).

    Liked by 1 person

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