Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Christine Lucas, the protagonist of this psychological thriller, has a problem. Years ago, an accident robbed her of her ability to retain day-to-day memories. Each night, her mind erases everything when she goes to sleep, and most days when she wakes, she is unable to remember anything past her young adult years. Her husband Ben is a stranger beside her in the bed she wakes up in every morning, and she is unfamiliar with the middle-aged face she sees in the mirror, still believing herself to be in her early 20s.

Ben does his best to help her cope, keeping her grounded by guiding her through each day with photos, scrapbooks and patience. Then one day, Christine discovers she has been working secretly with a doctor, who has been encouraging her to document each day in her journal. Using it to piece together daily events, she discovers there is more to her past, a past that her husband may have been keeping from her. What do you do when the only person you can trust is only telling you half the story? What can you believe when you don’t even trust your own memories?

Before I go to Sleep is like 50 First Dates meets Memento, a dramatic tale that very quickly transforms into a suspenseful, psychological thriller. It is hard to believe this is a debut novel, since beneath the twists and turns lies a very complex theme, a darker truth that many would find difficult to think about. If what makes a person is their lifetime of memories, who are we if we can’t recall our lives or even ourselves? Not being able to remember anything is a scary thought. On the one hand, while painful or disturbing memories can be abandoned each night, so will the memories of all the happy times and of those you love. It’s a little bit like dying every night, and when I really think about it, I can’t help but sympathize with Christine even more.

Given the premise of the novel, I was really curious as to how the author would handle the narrative. Not surprisingly, I found it a little awkward and confusing, but it was nonetheless well executed and better than I had hoped. After a while, I started getting used to the style and structure, and decided in the end that it was the best possible way to tell this story in light of the challenges it presents.

I thought this was a good mystery novel, with a very emotional build up to a startling and explosive conclusion. The only problem with this is that sometimes, I felt like the book was genre-confused, not knowing whether or not it wanted to be a heartfelt drama, or a suspenseful thriller. In the end, I guess it is a little bit of both. If I had known this beforehand, I probably would have liked this book even more, but as it is, I often found myself perplexed with its pacing while I was reading. Some parts of the beginning and middle felt a bit slow, while the ending was anything but.

Still, Before I go to Sleep succeeds at being an entertaining and enjoyable read. It is probably one of the more original stories I’ve read so far this year, and more thought-provoking than I expected.


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