Saturday 5 May 2012

Before I Go To Sleep, S. J. Watson

Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine's life.
(Cover blurb for Before I Go To Sleep.)

I'd had my eye on this book since it was published, and when I boxed up nearly all my books in order to decorate my bedroom this week, I borrowed this from the staff library at work. Although I'd read books about characters with amnesia before - and even made a half-decent attempt at writing one - Before I Go to Sleep was something altogether new. Christine Lucas wakes every single morning having to learn everything about her life and the world from the last twenty years - sometimes more. Before reading this I wondered just how Watson was going to manage to tell this story; how the reader would learn with Christine and not have to endure endless repetition as she rediscovered everything anew. Watson manages this with a simple solution: Christine's journal, which she reads before adding to each day, meaning that we are on the same page, as it were.

Before I Go To Sleep is a deep insight into what it must be like to live with amnesia: the fear and horror of not knowing anything, the world being a strange place, and discovering each day that you're twenty-odd years older than you thought. There were almost time-travel elements, as of course the world has changed a lot in the past decades. Where the world has changed gradually, to Christine it happens all at once, and she has to come to terms with the existence of mobile phones, photoshop, the Gherkin and London Eye - and living in a post 9/11 world without any understanding of the significance of that date - or knowledge that it is a significant date at all. "I must have missed so much," Christine writes. "Disasters, tragedies, wars. Whole countries might have fallen to pieces as I wandered, oblivious, from one day to the next."

Being a book all about memory, there are inevitably plenty of flashbacks, which are rather disorientating to read. Christine's mind is a very intense, confusing place to be, and the flashbacks can read like actual, physical shifts in time. Her perception of the world is a mishmash of past and present, real and imagined, and filling in the gaps where memories ought to be - but aren't.

The storytelling is very well-paced, with questions answered at satisfactory intervals - and with every question answered, another two are raised. The most straight-forward resolutions to mysteries add to the suspicion by posing another question: if this is the truth, why lie about it or conceal it up until now? Before I Go To Sleep is an intelligent, well-written thriller and psychological study that keeps you turning the pages wanting to know just what's going on. Although I had guessed at a major twist early on, it was revealed to give me a sense of satisfaction for figuring it out, rather than disappointment with the author for not being cleverer than me - a rare achievement.


  1. I just found your blog, I'm a new follower :)

    I liked this book too, although I did think things tied up a bit too neatly at the end.

  2. I bought this a week or so ago. I wasn't that desperate to read it because I'm a bit sick of amnesia-type books - they seem to be EVERYWHERE at the minute, but it was only £2 so I figured why not? Since then though, I've seen glowing reviews everywhere so I might give it a try :)

    I don't really mind guessing twists earlier on - it's how they get there that entertains me!

  3. I Never heard about this book,but,looks great.
    I loved your review and your blog.
    Gave a Good Weekend.
    Mariana - World of Tori Vega.

  4. Wow, this Tori chick's really doing the spamming rounds this week!

    I liked the book too - not as much as I hoped, but enough - and I agree that it's always nice when you guess at a big twist and get to feel really smug when your Sherlock skills are rewarded! I find sometimes it makes me pick up on things I might have missed otherwise too, because I already have it in mind to look for them...

  5. i liked this one, a lot.

    i also guessed the twist, mainly as you always know these kinds of books always have a twist, so i was on the look out for it :)

    did you know this is being made into a movie starring nicole kidman/ i think it'd be awesome as a movie :)

  6. Thanks so much for this review. I've also been circling this book, but now I feel good about moving on. I'm glad you enjoyed the narrator. She's the next one in the Maisie Dobbs series. My concern is that she was on my soap opera and is at least a very convincing American. I don't necessarily like the idea of listening to an American narrator read a book completely in a British accent. Sounds like she worked well for this book. That gives me hope. :-)

    Marlene Detierro (Cash Advance Company)


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