Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz
This stunning debut is one of the best books I’ve read this year (so far). Melbourne-based author Jacqueline Bublitz has crafted a haunting story about grief, limbo, transition and friendship that’s by far the most literary of this month’s crime picks. Echoing Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, this finely crafted novel traces the stories of Alice and expat Melburnian Ruby Jones, as told by the spectral Alice, whose tragic death kicks off this book.
After a period of stagnation in which Ruby realises the futility of her own position as ‘the other woman’ in an illicit affair, she escapes to New York to give herself physical and emotional distance, only to find herself even more alone. A newcomer to the city, she is shocked to encounter a body in a nearby waterway while out jogging. Seeking to make sense of this distressing discovery, Ruby is drawn to learn more about this unknown young woman, and a new tribe of friends offer support and strength in her efforts to provide this Jane Doe with some dignity and respect in death. As Ruby’s sense of autonomy and self begins to flourish, brief encounters with a sharply-dressed, smooth-talking man threaten to destabilise her newfound security, provoking conflicting feelings about her distant lover and new, local love interest.
This book is imbued with sadness, mostly tied to Alice’s unfortunate end and her status as an unknown Jane Doe in the morgue. For all that occurred during Alice’s short and troubled life, in death she leaves an indelible mark. Both Alice and Ruby have had their lives ruined physically and emotionally by dreadful men, but Bublitz’s narrative also offers a sense of optimism and redemption. Like Louise Doughty’s Platform Seven, this literary crime novel reads as a moving meditation on the loss of women to male violence, as well as the resolve it takes (manifested by Ruby’s actions) to bring about justice.
Julia Jackson is the assistant shop manager at Readings Carlton.