Before I Go To Sleep

Published: 2011
Author: S.J. Watson


When you don’t have your memory – what do you have?

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I have one very annoying trait. I have a lousy memory. I can have a conversation and agree to do something and five minutes later I’ve forgotten whatever task I was given. If I don’t write things down I don’t remember them. My husband has had the same mobile number for years and years – I still don’t know it. I am the most absent minded person I know. But at least I wake up in the morning knowing who I am, where I am and who is beside me. There are no such luxuries for Chris, the heroine of S.J. Watson’s debut novel Before I Go To Sleep.

Chris wakes up every morning with no knowledge of the past twenty years. The man in bed beside her explains that he is her husband Ben, she was in an accident which left her severely injured and that she is suffering from a rare form of amnesia which means that once she goes to sleep at night her memories are erased and she will wake up once more believing she is in her early twenties with no recollection of her life since before the accident. The story begins as Chris reads a journal that she has written previously and the entry ends with the words “Don’t Trust Ben”. Through a series of journal entries Chris starts to piece together what has happened in her life and what Ben has been keeping from her, ostensibly for her own protection.

This is an absolutely gripping psychological thriller from beginning to end and while I worked out the big reveal just before it happened I was caught off-guard with some of the other twists and turns. There’s barely a slow moment and it’s definitely a book where “just one more chapter” isn’t enough. I wanted to read and keep reading until the very end even if that did mean serious damage to my sleep.

Watson’s choice to have Chris, through her journal entries, as the book’s narrator was brilliant. It meant that as she discovered what had happened to her, we as readers were also finding out the truth about her life. We experienced her highs and lows as she starts to piece together her history, remember falling in love with Ben and mourn the losses she has suffered. Watson creates complete empathy for and solidarity with Chris as her journal fills with facts of her past, and present.

What made Before I Go To Sleep so scary was the sheer ordinariness of it all. Ben and Chris live in a normal suburban neighbourhood and while Chris’s memory loss is a major factor in their lives so too are the everyday tasks that we all have to do such as washing the dishes or cleaning the windows. This is a world that any of us could inhabit given the right (wrong) set of circumstances.

This is a confident and assured first novel and I look forward to S.J. Watson’s next novel, I hope it will be as gripping and exciting as this one.

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