Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

A gripping novel of powerful force that challenges the very notion of memory.

Imagine this scenario; Early morning you wake up, you’re in a room you don’t recognize, you have no recollection of ever being here before, no memory of the previous night, and there is an unfamiliar man with a wedding ring sleeping beside you. Confused, you rationalize that this man must be the by-product of a drunken night. But then you look in the mirror and not only are 20 years older than you thought, you’re also wearing a wedding ring and adorned all around the bathroom mirror are pictures of you and the strange unknown man sleeping next door.

If this sets your mind spinning in dizzy panic then imagine how Christine Lucas must feel when she wakes up every morning to this very scenario. Christine is a rare case, she has sever problems with her memory where by her mind routinely deletes all of the information and memories she has formed in the past twenty-four hours when she goes to sleep.

The man sleeping by her side is, he explains her husband, and her memory loss is the result of an accident which robbed her of the ability to form new memories and also caused her to forget much of the past twenty years. Sometimes Christine will wake up believing that she is a six-year-old girl other times she will wake up believing that she is still a twenty year old woman.

The novel opens in this fashion, describing for the reader the harsh and unnerving reality that Christine must face each day. Pulling the reader into the depths of Christine’s confusion and fresh Pain Watson instantly connects his reader to Christine in an effect that inspire empathy and compassion.

After explaining these basic facts to Christine her husband explains that he must go out to work. He promises to return later that evening and tell her more of her past.

Ben, leaves her with a mobile phone and a list of possible household tasks she can do to busy herself. But shortly after he leaves Christine receives a call from a Dr Nash, a man who claims they have been working together, in secret to improve her memory. He tells her they have an appointment today.

Scared of this man she has never heard of but also terrified of the blank void of memory that leaves her with no sense of personal identity Christine agrees to meet the Dr in the hopes that he will help fill in the blanks that make up her life.

It’s within these first pages that Watson heats up the suspense and thrill of the novel to unbearable heights when Dr Nash presents Christine with a journal; a journal he claims she has been writing every day herself. He tells her that he asked to see it and so she allowed him to read it, he tells her that within it she can hope to find a sense of her history. But what she discovers when returning home are these words written on the journals front page;

Don’t Trust Ben.

Here Christine embarks on a journey reading back on the entires that supposedly have been written by herself. Finally she may have discovered a window to her past that is written not by a supposed husband or an alleged Dr but in her own hand.  But can she even trust that it was written by her?

When reading her journal Christine is given finally a brief sense of her past. She understands that she must continue to write in it everyday. It is the only way that when she wakes she will have any solid, reliable source or sense of who she is.

She writes down encounters with her husband, Dr Nash and all that transpires there. But as her memory seems to strengthen and with this new-found source of history Christine is realizing that there are some things that will make us question whether or not we really want to remember our pasts.

 The character of Christine is in itself a curious thing, Watson’s portrayal of her is devoid of the usual strong characterization typically found in fiction. We know as much about her as she knows herself from reading her journal. We do not know in much detail her appearance, nor do we have a sense of her taste, likes dislikes, what makes her tick essentially. It is all of these things combined that help connect us with Christine as we feel like her; that we do not know who she is.

For that reason Watson is successful in not only drawing in his readership but also maintaining their interest. Add in subtlety left clues and dramatic plot twists and the effect is quite simply a novel that will have you reading into the night. The stories energy never wavers and we become as compelled As Christine to find out the real truth of her past. 

Now I know that many people have already read this book, it’s certainly proving to be very poplar but still I don’t want to give too much away in the above review. Therefore if you don’t like PLOT SPOILER’S then please avoid the below until you have read the book. Below are the reactions of not just myself but the seven other lovely members of my book group who joined me last night for our latest critical dissection.

 Book Group’s reaction:

I have to admit that I thought I had this one totally summed up, I thought, perhaps rather proudly that I had at last found a book that we would all love and adore. Rather surprisingly though despite all of us agreeing that the book was a treat to read there were controversially a few members who were left, when finishing the book feeling a little lack lustre.

Whilst Rebecca and Ijeoma seemed to rave about the book a few others felt that the story, whilst a good one, was a little far short of their high expectations. And who can blame them really the book comes very highly recommended.

The general feel was that whilst this book is an amazing and compelling read it is not an epic. Once the book is over it is simply over, the lasting affects of the book quickly wan.

What seemed to have each of us animated was the novels ending, which even for those of us who loved the book left us with a few disgruntled comments. Dave described feeling dejection at the final fight scene where by we do not even find out how Mike dies. Did anyone else notice that?

The scene seemed rushed through, hard to believe even in parts. And the final outcome itself seemed incredibly harried and devoid of the much-needed facts and interactions. For example the real Ben, we only meet him for what seems a brief five minutes, bar the letter that he writes for Christine we get little or no insight into his character, how he really feels for Christine, how they are together after all of this separation.

And Adam her long-lost son, we don’t even get the briefest of descriptions of what he is like, his appearance, personality. And the novel simply ends. Christin’s journey is over and so is ours.

It was almost like Watson ran out of stem towards the end and for me the perfection and rewarding thought out detail of the first half of the novel was lost in the final pages.

A few people even struggled with the character of Christine, both Ijeoma and Holly disliked her. There was a feeling from Holly that perhaps she had herself brought on all of the trouble that plagues her.  Off course it’s quite hard to connect with a character who doesn’t even know herself save for a few precious pages in her diary. I never really contemplated whether or not I liked Christine or not when reading her book and upon reflection I felt she was more of a vessel for which the stories central ideas could be seen through. This for me was no slur on the author, to giver too much personality would as I said have ruined my connection with Christine and the fact that I shared her bewilderment at knowing who she was.

So I was surprised to find that the book did not blow everyone away, caught up in the manic craze sweeping this book I really thought it had captivated all audiences. But I do believe that this is a book that should and will find it’s way into many readers hands this summer.

If you desire a book that’s a little bit different and has an original and gripping story line then you are bound to enjoy this book. Whether or not you will love the book off course lies with yourself and if do read it or have already read it then please do let me know what you think.

Or do you plan o read the book and if so what are your expectations. Also if anyone can recommend other books like this one then I would love to hear your thoughts.

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3 thoughts on “Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

  1. I sort of agree with your book group on this one. As an original, seemingly unsolvable puzzle it worked beautifully, but the nature of the story, and the late introduction of many significant characters, had me wanting to know far more than the conventions of that type of book allow.

  2. The more I talk and look into this book the more I find other people with similar feelings. Initially it’s fantastic but there was definitely a few flaws, I guess like you said the conventions of the book didn’t allow for much of the characterisation and detail we all craved.

  3. Pingback: The Highs And Then The Lows | I hug my books

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