Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
I have been raving about this book for so long that it is long overdue for me to write this review. Sometimes you can just sense that you will like something or someone. That is what happened when I first encountered S. J. Watson on Twitter last year and heard about his debut novel. In what I can only call fate, our paths would continue to cross in various ways. However, the most remarkable event of all would be when I finally got my hands on a gorgeous proof of his novel, Before I Go To Sleep; the book did not meet my expectations, it surpassed them by far. Here is a brief synopsis:
As the result of a tragic accident, Christine Lucas suffers a rare form of amnesia; not only has she lost all her memory, but she is unable to hold new memories for any longer than 24 hours. Every time Christine falls asleep at night, she forgets all over again. Her husband, Ben, is her only source of information, and it is through him that she discovers who she is and what has become of her life.
However, when a Dr Nash calls around and gives Christine a journal which she has apparently been keeping, Christine realises that there are things about her life that Ben has been hiding from her. But why? Is Ben sparing her, and himself, the pain of relating all the things she has lost, and forgotten, everyday of both their lives? Or is there something more sinister at hand?
The novel is beautifully constructed. Everything in the story occurs within one day, however, during that day we are taken back in time to discover, along with Christine, how her life has led up to this point. Considering the significance of a day in Christine’s life – her life only spans 24 hours in her own memory – it is so fitting that this story should take place all within the same day, because it allowed me to understand what life is like for her. Also, in part two (of three) which focuses on Christine’s journal, the reader and Christine merge in a strange but wonderful way. It is almost as though the book takes on real time, as you read everything that Christine reads, and discover everything that she discovers, along with her. It is a well-considered, brilliant structure.
Characterisation is also excellent; Steven has clearly made a deep connection with his main protagonist, and although her condition is so rare and unimaginable to me, everything about Christine’s situation feels real. As Christine is the narrator (the story is told in first person), I found that from the very beginning it was easy to see the world through her eyes, to sense her confusion, her fear, the panic as it rises up within her, and often to feel the very same emotions myself. S.J. Watson also does an excellent job of keeping us guessing about the true intentions of Ben, Christine’s husband, Claire, her long-lost friend, and even Dr Ed Nash who appears to be helping her recover her memory.
As Christine is unable to trust anyone or anything completely, even herself, nor could I, as I was never able to know much more than Christine did. It really is a frustrating task to make sense of things when you have no backlog of information, no memory, and in that sense I realised just how terrifying Christine’s condition was, and the immense importance of the journal. Not only was Christine, and I, unveiling other characters in the novel as we read her journal, we were also discovering who Christine was, as for both myself and Christine, this life of hers was new and alien.
Before I Go To Sleep is a true psychological thriller in every sense: psychological because it really is about the mind and the effect it has on defining reality, the games it can play, as well as the power of the memory and how it defines us, and a thriller because the novel is so terrifying; the feeling of confusion, of being completely lost in the world, overwhelms you, and the events leading up towards the ending have your heart racing and tension throughout your body; you feel anxiety, fear, and helplessness combined.
You can find out more about this book via the Facebook page, his website, or his blog, and you can follow S.J. Watson on Twitter. You may also wish to watch the trailer below:
S.J. Watson is an incredibly talented author and Before I Go To Sleep is just brilliant, way above the level expected for a debut novel. It is certainly no surprise that this book has had such resounding success (already translated into more than 30 languages, and due to be made into a movie) and there is no doubt that Steven Watson will go on to have a long and bright future as an author. I’d like to wish Steven an amazing Publication Day on Thursday 28th April 2011 and I hope you will celebrate with him by reading this book. Thank you to Alison Barrow at Transworld Books for my proof, and especially to Steven, for just being such a great guy and so amazingly kind to his fans.