Today, I am excited to be sharing my review of The Five by Hallie Rubenhold with you all.
Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.
For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.
The Five was our ‘book club that’s not a book club’ pick for May. It had been on my TBR since it was released, so I couldn’t wait to read it, and it definitely lived up to my expectations. I also really enjoyed our group discussions along the way.
This book truly gives a unique insight in to the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper, and it’s nice to see the victims finally given the dignity they deserve. I feel that with murder/serial killer cases (and all crimes in general actually), we are so quick to discuss the killer and their lives, and to dig in to the why they did it that we overlook the most important people; the victims. That is what makes this book so refreshing from your usual true crime, the murders aren’t described, and the author only really mentions the Ripper once or twice throughout the book. That was one of my favourite things about this book, because for once Jack the Ripper wasn’t given the spotlight that he so desperately craved.
It was extremely interesting for me personally to read what it was like in East London back in the 1800s, as I lived in Bethnal Green and went to University in Whitechapel for a few years, so I can visualise a lot of the places mentioned, but the area is VERY different today. The East End is actually one of the trendiest areas of London nowadays, with Brick Lane, and Spitalfields Market drawing people in from all over, so reading how it was one of the WORST parts back then was absolutely fascinating.
These women’s stories highlight the huge difference between social roles then and now. Yes, we still have a long way to go, even today, but the way life was back then is absolutely shocking. It was so easy for a woman to find herself in a situation where she was forced to live in awful conditions or even on the streets, for multiple different reasons, that wouldn’t even effect our lives today. The Five was a massive eye opener on that front for me.
Each woman’s story was incredibly sad, and their lives were unbelievably difficult, despite the fact that they all grew up in completely different circumstances. Honestly, I don’t think I would have been able to cope with even half of what these women went through. The saddest part about each of their stories is that all of them seemed to be only one small decision away from avoiding their fate completely, and most of those decisions were actually forced upon them. Also, the revelation that there is a high chance that none of them were even prostitutes, despite what we have all been led to believe all of these years, was a huge shock to me, and another massively emotional aspect to their stories.
Hallie Rubenhold has written this book incredibly well. A lot of true crime can read a bit like a case file, but this didn’t feel like that at all. The writing style was gripping and enticing, as well as informative, and I really enjoyed that about it. The author has also been very delicate and respectful with her writing, but in a way that the horrible and upsetting details still manage to pack a punch. Honestly, I think she deserves a round of applause for this book.
The Five is a powerful, and heartbreaking read. The author really has given these women their lives back, and I think this book is incredibly important. A true crime book like no other, and one that I would highly recommend to everyone!
I give The Five a 4.5 star rating!
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