Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

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Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A literary thriller dealing with an unusual form of amnesia. Who can you trust to tell you the truth when you wake up every day with no memory at all?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Doubleday
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857520173

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Rather ironically, 'Before I Go To Sleep' is not a book that you will forget in a hurry. Imagine, if you will, waking up every morning with no memory of who you are, where you are, or who the person lying next to you in bed is. You can remember things during the day, but once you go to sleep, your mind is effectively wiped clean. This is the slightly unusual form of amnesia that the narrator, Christine suffers from in Watson's first novel that is a daring and gripping literary thriller.

The subject of amnesia is certainly not new to authors, but to place the narrator as the sufferer presents the writer with significant challenges. Watson overcomes this by having a doctor encourage Christine to write a journal and this takes up the majority of the book, sandwiched between an opening of the sense of confusion that Christine wakes to every day and an albeit rather a melodramatic ending. It's a clever device and by and large, this works well, although it is certainly helpful if you are able to suspend a little disbelief here and there and not take things overly realistically. I'll come onto that in a bit.

Once Christine starts to journal her days, she is able to pick up threads of her situation. However, the stories that she's told from her husband, Ben, about the past and what she is told by her doctor, about whom Ben is blissfully unaware as he is of the existence of the journal itself, start to reveal inconsistencies and holes. Can she trust Ben? Is he telling her everything and if not, is it to protect her or his own feelings? Certainly, Christine's take on things isn't helped by the fact that at the outset we learn that the journal has Don't trust Ben written just under her own name. But who else can she trust? The doctor?

There are one or two devices around which the plot turns which seem a bit blatant at the time. Ben has given her a mobile phone to use, and the doctor gives her another. Why? Well, it will come in handy later in the plot twist of course. However, the main thing I had to have a quiet word with myself about was the disbelief that Christine would have been quite so verbose in her journaling. She's supposed to be doing this on the quiet and needs to re-cap each day, but in order to ensure that the writing quality is high throughout, she covers rather more than I would expect in the situation. By the end, it would take her the best part of a morning just to read the information which seems a little unrealistic. Yes, the details are important, but descriptions of the quality of the light coming through the window are perhaps not the most pressing of issues when you are trying to piece together the lost 20 years of your life. So, there are some questionable issues of logic here, but that doesn't really get in the way of what is a gripping story. It also makes it a far more readable story.

Is the ending all a bit melodramatic and rushed? Perhaps - it's a bit like an adult version of Scooby-Doo at times when the truth is revealed about who the villains of the piece are - but this is forgivable for such a thrilling story and while you might guess some of the twists, I'd be surprised and impressed if you guess where it's going until the very last few pages.

Apparently the film rights for this have already been snapped up by Ridley Scott with Rowan Joffe to direct - I'd imagine that they will be fighting leading actresses off with a stick for this opportunity. It's a great part and with mental illness to boot - it's got 'Best Actress' gong nomination written all over it if they get it right. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and read the book for yourself. It might even be an outside bet for the literary prize longlists this year.

If you cannot remember any other books that deal with the subject of amnesia, then here are a few suggestions: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty and The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes. Where 'Before I Go To Sleep' scores is by being big on thriller factor. You might also enjoy Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinead Crowley.

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Buy Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson at


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