Today is Publication Day for The Girl Puzzle, a story about the real historical figure Nellie Bly, an investigative journalist, adventurer and champion of women’s rights, whose birthday is also today.
I knew very little about Nellie Bly, whose real name was Elizabeth Cochrane, before reading the book but it inspired me to find out more about her. She was fascinating in lots of ways including undertaking a record-breaking round-the-world trip in the style of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg in 72 days.
The Girl Puzzle, however, is based on the true story of Elizabeth’s spell in a women’s lunatic asylum, which she tricked her way into so that she could report on conditions inside.
Her published story is well known. But did she tell the whole truth about her ten days in the madhouse? Down to her last dime and offered the chance of a job of a lifetime at The New York World, twenty three year-old Elizabeth Cochrane agrees to get herself admitted to Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum and report on conditions from the inside. But what happened to her poor friend Tilly Maynard? Was there more to her high praise of Dr Frank Ingram than everyone knew?
Thirty years later, Elizabeth, known as Nellie Bly, is no a longer celebrated trailblazer and the toast of Newspaper Row. Instead, she lives in a suite in the Hotel McAlpin, writes a column for The New York Journal and runs an informal adoption agency for the city’s orphans.
Beatrice Alexander is her secretary, fascinated by Miss bly and her causes and crusades. Asked to type a manuscript revisiting her employer’s experience in the asylum in 1887, Beatrice believes she’s been given the key to understanding one of the most innovative and daring figures of the age.
This an extraordinary book about a remarkable woman. It’s written in two viewpoints – the younger Elizabeth and her secretary Beatrice thirty years later. I found both of them convincing and engaging. Elizabeth’s determined attitude and spirited responses feel just right for the person she was, and I enjoyed learning about the older Miss Bly through Beatrice’s observations much in the way we learn about Sherlock Homes through Watson. The dual timeline was admirably handled and the story is thought-provoking as well as beautifully written.
I’d highly recommend this to readers interested in women’s history or indeed anyone looking for a great story with a strong female lead.
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About the author
Kate Braithwaite grew up in Edinburgh but now lives in the Brandwine valley in Pennsylvania. Her daughter doesn’t think Kate should describe herself as a history nerd but that’s exactly what she is. Always on the hunt for lesser known stories from the past, Kate’s books have strong female characters, rich settings and dark secrets.
Find out more about Nellie Bly and Kate’s other books on her website
Connect with Kate Braithwaite on Twitter @KMBraithwaite and @TheGirlPuzzle1