Review: Before I Go To Sleep

Book by S.J. Watson

Before I go to sleepNothing makes a book publisher salivate more than a high-concept thriller, especially if that concept can be boiled down to a phrase or two. And this debut thriller arrives with a doozy of a concept: what if your ability to remember everything about yourself vanished with sleep, and you woke up each day with your memory wiped? Christine, the book’s fortysomething heroine, has grappled with this existential nightmare every day for nearly two decades, the after-effect of an accident that almost killed her. Her husband, Ben, reminds her every morning of his identity, their marriage, and their love for each other. Why then is she visiting a therapist, seemingly behind Ben’s back? Why is she keeping a journal whose opening pages remind her not to trust her husband? And why does she feel that danger lurks in the deep recesses of her mind that even the periodic blanking of memory can’t quite erase?

Before I Go To Sleep plucks its strings of psychological horror with the grace of an expert musician, showing us the full range of Christine’s despair, anxiety and sadness over not being in control of her life. But the novel wouldn’t thrill and surprise as much if it didn’t allow us to also see Christine wrestle some semblance of control for herself, in journal entries scribbled in haste and in small but defiant measures against the two key men in her life in order to lay claim to her true self—one, it turns out, that bears little relation to her day-to-day existence.

Though Watson skirts the line of believability (would these journal entries be so full of dialogue and description, even with the explanation that pre-accident she was a published novelist?), Christine is a character readers come to care about. And the book’s payoff and final twist are terrific. Before I Go To Sleep is an ideal choice to while away summer’s sweltering days.

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