I had such high hopes for Before I Go to Sleep, S. J. Watson’s debut novel. It seemed to have a lot of good press on Amazon.com, in blogs and I’d seen it in featured in a number of bookstores. So I bought it from Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley a few weeks ago. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I was disappointed by it.
Before I Go to Sleep is a psychological thriller, where the main character Christine wakes up every morning with no recollection of who she is, who the man she’s sleeping next to is, where she is or even hold old she is. She has some memories from when she was in her 20’s that come to mind most mornings, but when she looks in the mirror, she realizes that her hair is graying and she’s 47-years-old. She “meets” her husband Ben all over again every morning and he patiently explains to her that she had an accident many years ago that gave her a rare short-term memory loss/amnesia every time she goes to sleep. He shows her pictures of the two of them together in the past 20+ years to prove to her that he’s not a stranger and they’re happily married.
After Ben goes to work for the day, Christine often gets a phone call from Dr. Nash, a doctor who has been meeting with her in order to try to help her improve her memory. Dr. Nash tells her to check in her closet for a journal that she uses to detail each day of her life and recount the occasional recent memory she does have, before she goes to sleep and forgets everything the next morning. The journal helps Christine realize that she trusts Dr. Nash and that he’s been helping her make real progress with her memory. Though on the first page of the journal she’s discovers that she’s written, “Don’t trust Ben,” and Dr. Nash informs her that she keeps both Dr. Nash and the journal a secret from Ben.
Early in the novel, Christine goes through this routine a number of times. She wonders why she can’t trust Ben and comes across a few memories or parts of their past that he doesn’t readily tell her in the morning but if pressed, he’ll admit to after she’s read her journal and questions him when he gets home from work. Is he lying to protect her from being hurt by the past or is there another reason he’s hiding the truth from her? And why is Dr. Nash so anxious to meet with her and help her, when her own husband doesn’t even know about him?
I definitely thought this was an intriguing, unique premise for a thriller. But I got a bit tired of reading about Christine’s routine–it took a while for it to be established, before getting to the meat of the story. Then once the story got going, it didn’t take me long to figure out the twist, so I read the rest of the book waiting for it to be unveiled and it was hard for me to enjoy the story. Just too predictable. The characters were also a bit annoying–while I appreciate how hard it would be to have memory loss and be in Christine’s position, she still seemed a bit too helpless and daft, while Ben seemed way too patient and quick to go to work and not check in on her again all day long. Also, while Christine is only 47, she was really described like a woman who was much older, so it was also a little creepy to read about Christine wondering about her sexuality and her sexual relationship with her husband, who often still felt like a stranger to her. While Watson may have been trying to make the book and scenario authentic, it creeped me out and felt like an unnecessary addition to the plot.
While I was clearly distracted negatively by different aspects of the book, I do think Watson is a good writer. It was easy to read, the characters really came to life and I thought it was original. And like I said, the book seemed to get a lot of good press. Maybe I’m off here–does anyone disagree with me? Any thumbs up?
- Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #9: Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (cannonballread4.wordpress.com)
- Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep (aworldofrandomness.wordpress.com)