BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S. J. Watson

Book Quote:

“What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  AUG 4, 2011)

Before I Go to Sleep is a debut novel from British author S.J. Watson, and the book has already made considerable waves in the world of publishing. This is due in part to the fact that film director Ridley Scott bought the movie rights. There’s a big question behind the media blitz: is all the hype justified?

The novel, narrated by Christine, begins when she wakes up in what appears to be a strange room, in a strange bed, and sleeping next to a strange man. Groggy and not fully awake, for a split second she imagines that she’s had some sort of drunken one night stand and has ended up in bed with an older man, but she’s shocked when she goes to the bathroom and catches a glimpse of her refection in the mirror:

“The face I see looking back at me is not my own. The hair has no volume and is cut much shorter than I wear it; the skin on the cheeks and under the chin sags; the lips are thin; the mouth turned down. I cry out, a wordless gasp that would turn into a shriek of shock were I to let it, and then I notice the eyes. The skin around them is lined, yes, but despite everything else, I can see that they are mine. The person in the mirror is me, but I am twenty years too old. Twenty-five. More.”

It’s soon revealed that Christine, now in her late 40s, is an amnesiac. She lives a quiet life alone with her husband, Ben, and due to an accident that occurred 18 years before, she suffers from severe memory impairment, and she cannot “retain new memories.” Each day when Christine wakes up, her memory is basically a blank slate, and she has no memory of the day before. This means that when Christine goes to sleep, she knows that the next day her memory will be wiped clean, and when she wakes she will have no idea how old she is, who her husband is, or what’s happened to the last 18 years of her life. And this terrifying pattern continues repeatedly as she starts each day with the horrifying information that she remembers nothing of her past.

Most of the book takes the form of secret journal entries made by a very vulnerable Christine. The journal is the idea of dedicated young neuropsychologist, Dr. Nash who believes that if Christine writes down her daily experiences, this action may gradually help with memory retention. The journal is secret because Christine’s husband, Ben, who feels that she’s been traumatized enough, does not approve of any further treatment. Nash’s idea may be right, however. Vague memories begin to return, and gradually Christine finds that some things just don’t add up.

Author S.J. Watson very successfully mines our fears by exploring the subject of memory, identity, and the creativity of the imagination. Before I Go to Sleep is an incredible page turner, and the method of parsing out details of Christine’s past through the daily journal entries is a brilliantly executed device. For the first 2/3s of the novel I was hooked and really annoyed at any interruptions to my reading, but then as the clues add up in Christine’s life, I guessed the direction the book was about to take me, and parts of the plot (no spoilers) strained credulity. Up to that point, I reveled in the steadily increasing tension, marveled at the author’s storytelling ability, and appreciated his knack for doling out the details as Christine painfully rebuilds her life day after day while repeatedly learning about her amnesia and her “lost life.” Many readers are really wowed by Before I Go to Sleep, and as a debut novel, it certainly is an impressively good read, but the tale was spoiled for me by guessing some of the crucial plot elements, the issue of credulity, and the ending which jarred with the rest of this tale. I have this niggling feeling that my opinion lands in the minority section. Reservations aside, I am really looking forward to seeing the film version.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 341 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper; First Edition edition (June 14, 2011)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: S. J. Watson
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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August 4, 2011 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Mystery/Suspense, Thriller/Spy/Caper, Unique Narrative

One Response

  1. booklover10 - August 4, 2011

    Dear Guy:
    I agree with your assessment. This is an engrossing novel that ultimately disappoints, but most people will be so mesmerized by the book’s premise and the sympathetic heroine that they will be willing to go along with the clunky ending.

    Nice review.

    All the best,
    Eleanor

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