Thursday, July 14, 2011

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go To Sleep is an extraordinary mystery and psychological thriller that is simply mesmerizing and difficult to put down.

Christine Lucas awakens to find she doesn't remember the man in her bed, where she is, or really anything about the past. We learn (along with her) that she is in her late forties, lives with her husband Ben and that each night when she goes to sleep, her memories of that day and any memories she regains during the day, are lost. This, as she learns from Ben, is the result of a horrible car accident.

Christine has amnesia and can't retain new memories. She has forgotten much of what has happened to her during her adult life. Sometimes she awakes believing she is a child, other times she believes she is an adult in her twenties. Every morning she must relearn her life; whom she is married to, whether or not they have children and so forth. Now in her mid forties, Christine has lived like this for twenty years. Her only connection to her past is her husband Ben. She relies completely upon him for the truth of her life. Ben has decided that he know longer wants her to see any more specialists because he says they upset her.

Every morning she receives a phone call from Dr. Nash, her doctor. Ben doesn't know she has been meeting with Dr. Nash, a neuropsychologist who is working with Christine to improve her memory recall. Nash gives Christine a daily journal which he urges her to hide from Ben and to write down her daily memories. Each morning he calls Christine on a special phone he has given her to remind her where she has hidden it. Each morning Christine reads her journal and relearns her past. She feels guilt over keeping this journal a secret from Ben because he has suffered so much and he has taken care of her for many years.

Part I of Before I Go To Sleep sets down all of the above information by describing the current day, November 30, that Christine has awoken to. She meets Dr. Nash and he returns her journal which he has been reading for the past few days. He encourages her to reread her diary and to continue writing.

In Part II we read Christine's entries beginning Friday November 9 to Friday November 23. From her diary we see Christine chronicle her struggles to remember the past and piece together her life. As bits and pieces of her memory return, it soon becomes apparent that her husband Ben has been keeping things from her and not quite telling the truth. Christine is uncertain as to Ben's motives. Is he trying to protect her as he says or is there something else. She waffles between trust and paranoia. Christine begins to seek out the truth and actively investigate the past both on her own and with the assistance of Dr. Nash.

Part III picks up where Part I left off - on November 30. It is on this day that Christine learns the truth of what really happened to her when she and Ben take a trip together. It is an old girlfriend who holds the key to the past and the present.

Before I Go To Sleep succeeds admirably and is a suspenseful and compulsive read. Watson does a wonderful job of crafting the character of Christine Lucas by revealing her life through the process of gradually recovering memories.

The novel's unique structure contributes to the mystery of Christine's circumstances, with Part I setting the stage, Part II feeding the reader tidbits of Christine's life and Part III providing the resolution. The ending was quite simply, chilling, and not quite what I expected. Although the ending appears to suggest a happy conclusion to Christine's circumstances, we don't know for certain. I felt there were a few inconsistencies and holes in the story that made the ending less substantive and lacking in the brilliance that characterized the rest of the novel. I wondered if Christine had no other family who knew of her predicament.

S.J. Watson was inspired by the lives of several well known amnesiac patients including Clive Wearing whose memory was damaged by a viral illness.Before I Go To Sleep is his debut novel which he wrote while working as an audiologist with at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, England. All the book covers I've seen are well crafted. The copy I read has the US cover. The Canadian cover is shown on the left.

My one complaint about the novel was the fact that Christine's memory seemed to be jogged mainly when she remembers intimate (read having sex) moments or while being intimate with her husband. Perhaps this was due to the circumstances surrounding the actual trauma and certain events of her adult life.

At any rate I highly recommend this book to fans of mystery fiction and especially psychological thrillers. It is excellent.

Below is one of the unusual book trailers for Before I Go To Sleep.

Readers interested in following S.J. Watson can find him on blogger.

Book Details:

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
New York: Harper Collins Publishers 2011

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