The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall

The Woman Before MeThe Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall is one of the first great books I’ve read this year. This psychological thriller follows the story of two women whose lives intertwine. First, there is Rose, a prison inmate convicted of murdering her friend’s baby by setting a house fire. On the other side of the law, there is Cate, a young probation officer who becomes interested in Rose’s case as the inmate nears possible early release. The story is told alternately from each woman’s point of view, as Rose reveals to us the story of her life, from the time of her lonely and tragic childhood, to her obsessive relationship and the subsequent birth, and death, of her own two-day-old son. And Cate struggles to understand what makes Rose tick, whether she is in fact a child murderer, and whether she deserves early release. At the heart of the story there is a mystery, for Rose protests her innocence throughout, and we only learn what really happened on the night of the fire at the end of the novel.
The Woman Before Me falls into the category that author Julia Crouch has termed “domestic noir.” At the same time, Ruth Dugdall’s novel is unique, for several reasons. First, Dugdall herself was a probation officer for almost 10 years, and her passion for this challenging career is obvious in her writing. Having dealt with female offenders herself, Dugdall handles the character of Rose bravely, refusing to pigeonhole her as a complete monster, or as an innocent victim. In the extra material at the end of the novel, Dugdall writes that women are treated differently than men in the criminal justice system. Sometimes they receive harsher punishments because of their gender, but sometimes they are given lighter sentences because of the misperception that women are incapable of the violent crimes that men commit. So in the complex character of Rose, Dugdall has the chance to show the reader a female criminal who is capable of feeling deep love, but who also is quite scary. In this way, Dugdall has written an important book, because through a gripping story, she exposes the reader to new ways to think about women and crime.
Another thing I really loved about the story was Dugdall’s powerful depiction of motherhood. She wrote The Woman Before Me shortly after giving birth, in fact, it was inspired while she was still in hospital. Her descriptions of the love a nursing mother feels towards her baby, or of the devastation from the death of a child, are immediate and authentic.
Dugdall writes about human relationships with sensitivity and wisdom. She is a gifted storyteller, and I was very glad to discover that The Woman Before Me is the first in a series of novels following the character of Cate. Despite its often difficult subject matter, The Woman Before Me brightened my day as only a great book can. I received a review copy of The Woman Before Me from the publisher through NetGalley.

View all my reviews

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cleopatralovesbooks
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 12:43:42

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I read it a few years ago and still remember it well now. I love books that capture human reactions so well.


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