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

Before I go to sleep

Proper grown up psychological thrillers set in worlds we recognise but hope never to inhabit are all the fictional rage right now. 

These latest page turners deal with the human as well as the pulse-racing. They aren’t hyperactive, gun-toting tales; no one is dashing around trying to uncover a love letter to Mary Magdalene or rifling through a family’s very dirty laundry with the help of an unhinged hacker. Nor do these new breed of thrillers favour plot over grammar, they don’t rely on hackneyed phrases or an over reliance on a thesaurus. The are, to use a hackneyed phrase, un-put-a-down-able, (yuck) without tripping over themselves with adjectives and unravelling plots.

Before I Go To Sleep, published in 2011, is the debut novel from S.J. Watson and one of the first of these wave of thrillers. It’s set to be made into a film starring Nicole Kidman as the lead. It’s a taut, tight, claustrophobic read about what it is to lose your memory and, with it, your life, or at least the one you know – or, rather – don’t know.

Following a traumatic accident forty-seven-year-old Christine wakes up every day believing she’s still 20 and that the man lying next to her is her latest one night stand. But he’s not. He reassures her every morning that he is her husband, Ben. There are photos of the two of them lining the bathroom mirror in an attempt to reconstruct those lost years. He writes notes on a blackboard in the kitchen to prompt her to do things she will have forgotten to do.

Christine’s world is small when we first meet her, shrunk to just her and her husband, but it’s about to grow bigger. She is called ‘out of the blue’ (although he had – or had he? – contacted her before) by a Dr Nash, a neuro-specialist who wants to help – and study – Christine’s strange case. He encourages her to keep a diary, and it’s this diary that forms the novel. The journal enables Christine to piece together the missing years of her life and uncover lies that she’s been erasing with every sleep.

Christine lost in a fug of nothing instinctively trusts no one and the diary at first confuses her, her instinct is all out of wack. And as our only guide, we as the reader, are equally as mistrustful of those around her.

There aren’t so much twists as slight meanders and it’s all the better for it. This doesn’t feel like a novel where the ending was written first and the rest of the plot had to be force down a narrow road of plausibility. The ending is the right one, that ties everything up more or less tightly (there are a few stray threads that I won’t mention for fear of setting off the spoiler alarm).

If you’re looking for a sharp, smart beach read then you could do worse than bung Before I Go To Sleep into your suitcase.

by Suzanne Elliott

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