There was much hype surrounding S.J. Watson’s debut novel Before I Go to Sleep. Why, with a psychological thriller being tied up with memory loss, people will always find this kind of plot somewhat refreshing and a fascinating subject for discussion. And had not for the screaming one-liner reviews printed on the book’s covers, I wouldn’t have thought of bringing it home. Did I regret such rash decision? I can’t say that I did, but I can’t also recount having truly enjoyed it to the last bits.
The story opens as the 47-year-old female protagonist Christine awakens from her sleep without a memory of how she got herself in a room with an unidentified man by her side. She immediately dismisses her surprise, thinking she got herself drunk the other night and had nonchalantly slept with a stranger- something she always did in her early twenties. But she’s in for a bigger surprise as she sees a much older version of herself in the mirror. Horrified of her discovery, Christine confronts the man, who turns out to be her husband, Ben. He then explains to Christine that she has amnesia and that most of everything she knew goes when she sleeps. The only memory she can ever recall is when she was just a twenty-ish happy-go-lucky woman- the time before she met Ben.
As Ben goes to work everyday, a Dr. Nash calls Christine every morning and introduces himself as a neuropsychologist. Dr. Nash then urges Christine to get her journal that’s been kept inside a shoe box in her closet and read it to understand what is happening. Having read the content of the journal, she then finds out that she and Dr. Nash have been working together to improve her memory. But what troubles her the most are the words “Don’t Trust Ben” inscribed inside the journal.
Slowly, through her flashbacks and diary, Christine begins to shed light on her past, particularly on the day of the horrible accident and the time before she lost her memory. The more she discovers these things, the more she grows weary of the people around her, especially Ben and Dr. Nash. Does Ben have something to do with her memory loss? Can she really trust Dr. Nash? What has really happened on that fateful night that put Christine in such terrible situation?
Before I Go to Sleep is an interesting and terrifying tale of a woman living with the people she barely knew. This gives the character of Christine a remarkable element as we are taken to witness her anxieties and confinement because of her memory loss. Since there’s only a handful of characters in the book, it goes to show how small Christine’s world has become after the accident. Her narration gave me an in-depth view of how excruciatingly nerve-racking it is to wake up each day without so much of a recollection of the previous day. I could have easily sympathized with Christine given her seemingly hopeless situation, but I didn’t feel any connection with her vulnerable side as I went on reading. In fact, I was on the verge of putting the book down many times.
However, the book was elegantly written. The vivid, delicate description of the events tries to resurrect the book from mediocrity. Watson’s dainty prose and characterization of the female lead made her real, a kudos despite the fact that the author is of the opposite sex.
The only obvious drawback of the book is its pace, which mostly slows to a crawl as Christine constantly begins the day doing the same thing she did the previous day. The whole process of remembering things is reiterated again and again, dragging the pace of the story to an unbearable degree. It’s a bit exhausting to read something I already knew, leading me to think that I was tricked in buying the book. The painful repetition made me almost lose my patience. But I kept reading because I have this belief that a psycho thriller has an element of surprise to it, which Watson was still keeping up his sleeves.
Indeed, he laid the tension again in the final chapter. I was able to heave a sigh of relief as the pace picked up its speed and got my anticipation high. Suspense started to crawl up to the moment of the final revelation. But alas! The climax, the part of which I achingly so wanted to happen, slammed my expectations down. It’s not that I found the way it’s presented disappointing, it’s because I wasn’t the least surprised by it. The book is indeed full of promises, but its sluggish pace makes it a little let down.
“There are memories I am better off without. Things better lost forever.”
Title: Before I Go to Sleep
Author: S.J. Watson
Published: April 2011 (UK), Doubleday
Target Audience: Adult
Genre: Thriller, Suspense