An extraordinary, unputdownable debut novel exploring trauma, connection, and our cultural obsession with dead girls.
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.
I read a lot of crime novels and, more often than not, when it comes to the victim they’re all dead girls. These women appear in the narrative briefly – as a bloodied and dismembered corpse, or naked and lying on an examination table, waiting to be poked and prodded. Then they’re pushed out of the story, because it was never really their story to begin with – it was the detective’s or the killer’s.
Before You Knew My Name is not just another novel about a dead girl. From the very first page, we know that the protagonist Alice Lee has been murdered. Yet author Jacqueline Bublitz doesn’t ask whodunnit. Instead, this powerful, hopeful novel asks: Who was she? And what did she leave behind? As Alice says in the opening passage: “If I tell you my story. If I let you know what happened to me. Maybe you’ll see who I was… 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”.
Narrated posthumously by Alice, the novel seamlessly dips back and forth in time to piece together the story of Alice’s life. Told in haunting yet luminous prose, Alice’s voice is utterly mesmerising, and through her Bublitz has managed to give a voice to all the women whose lives have been ended by men.
But this story doesn’t just belong to Alice, it’s also the story of Ruby Jones – the witness. Bublitz examines the impact this one incident has on Ruby’s life, and the startling connection these two women come to share afterward.
Before You Knew My Name is a remarkable debut that offers readers so many things at once: a feminist re-imagining of the traditional crime narrative, a lament for Alice and all the dead girls who came before her, and a love letter to New York City – in all its glitz, glam and ugliness. Quietly devastating, achingly beautiful and utterly captivating, Before You Knew My Name marks the arrival of a brilliant new voice in fiction.