Thursday, September 8, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Posted by Simcha 7:19 PM, under | 8 comments

    The Bedroom is strange. Unfamiliar. I don't know where I am, how I came to be here. I don't know how I'm going to get home. I have spent the night here. 
    I was woken by a woman's voice- at first I thought she was in bed with me, but then realized she was reading the news and I was hearing a radio alarm- and when I opened my eyes found myself here. In this room I do not recognize.  
    My eyes adjust and I look around in the near-dark. A dressing gown hangs off the back of the closet door- suitable for a woman, but for one much older than I am- and some dark-colored trousers are folded neatly over the back of a chair at the dressing table, but I can make out little else...It is then that I hear a juddering intake of breath behind me and realize that I am not alone. I turn around. I see an expanse of skin and dark hair, flecked with white. A man... 
    I lie as still as possible. Usually I can remember how I get into situations like this, but not today. There must have been a party, or a trip to a bar or a club. I must have been pretty wasted. Wasted enough that I don't remember anything at all. Wasted enough to have gone home with a man with a wedding ring and hairs on his back.

When Christine wakes up one morning she finds herself in an unfamiliar room lying in bed beside a strange man. She assumes that this is the result of a wild night of drunken revelry, since she can't remember anything about how she got there. She does feel slightly ashamed when she notices that the man beside her is sporting a wedding ring, and wonders where his wife might be. Creeping to the bathroom, Christine hopes to make her getaway before the man wakes up, but then she looks in the mirror and her world shatters.

The face in the mirror, the pictures on the wall, all tell a story of a life that Christine has lived but can not remember. It seems that the man in the bed is her husband, Ben and, as he gently explains to Christine, due to a car accident twenty years ago she is now suffering from reoccurring amnesia. Each morning she wakes up with no memory of the day before, or of any of the other days that have passed since the accident.

Ben shows Christine around the house and offers a brief explanation about their life, a routine that he apparently goes through each day. Ben then heads off to work, leaving Christine with a well-worn scrapbook as proof of the life she can't remember. But then Christine discovers that there is also a journal in which she has been chronicling her daily experiences for the last few weeks- a journal that Ben does not know about. 

When Christine opens the journal she encounters a message from herself that terrifies her.  Don't Trust Ben, it says. With some apprehension Christine turns the page and continues reading, hoping the journal will provide her with some of the clarity that she is so desperate for.  Though as she reads each entry Christine realizes that there is something strange going on and that Ben has been keeping secrets from her. Is it in order to protect her or is something more sinister going on?

Before I go to Sleep was a very different book from what I had expected. Based on the cover and the book blurb I had been prepared for a psychological thriller, and since I very rarely read such books I really had to mentally gear myself up for reading it. But ever since I heard about this book I just had to know how the story played out, and so I was prepared to step outside my reading comfort zone in order to find out. But my nervousness of venturing into this intimidating, and slightly frightening genre, was wasted because Before I go to Sleep was surprisingly mild. It was like bracing yourself to bite into a hot chili only to find yourself chewing on a slightly sweet pepper. A bit of a relief but also somewhat disappointing.

Despite the fact that there should have been a steady build-up of tension and suspense, as Christine goes through her journal and realizes that something is not right, the only thing I felt was curiosity about what would happen next. The sinister atmosphere that I would have expected in such a story was completely lacking, even when events come to a head and the real danger is revealed. Even though I was pretty sure that I knew how the story would end it was never completely clear who the villain might be. Is it Ben, who clearly loves Christine and is so patient in dealing with her amnesia, or maybe the doctor who claims to be helping Christine in recovering her memory? But since Christine is dealing with a severe handicap that prevents her from seeing the complete picture, we are as well.

There were several holes in the story where it felt like events had been forced in order to move them along in the direction the author wanted them to go. For days after finishing the book I kept thinking back to the story, coming up with new details that I suddenly realize didn't make much sense. In order for events to have unfolded as they did there would have had to have been many mis-communications between the characters and people turning up just when they are needed, all of which felt somewhat manufactured.

This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the story, because I really did, though it wasn't the mystery or suspense that caught my interest but rather Christine herself, and  her journey of discovery. While reading this book I really came to appreciate what a wonderful thing memory is and how frightening it would be to suddenly be without it, which isn't something I had ever really thought about before. But through Christine I really came to feel the fear and confusion that would result in having your past be completely lost to you. At one point Christine is unable to write in her journal for a week and when she starts up again she wonders what she had done during each of those days. It was this that really brought home for me the horror of such a situation.

But slowly, with the help of her journal, Christine manages to capture some of her memories and piece together the details of her life, which is when she  becomes aware of some inconsistencies in the story she has been told about herself, hinting at a some unpleasant secrets.

Unfortunately I figured out what the big secret was pretty early on and, despite my hopes, wasn't rewarded with any real surprises when The Big Reveal was made. The end was a bit of a let-down for this reason, as well as for several others, which I won't get into. I'll just say that the characters involved didn't respond in a way that I found satisfying.

Despite its weaknesses, Before I Go To Sleep is a compelling story that gave me a new appreciation for the seemingly simple ability of remembering. Christine was a very well-drawn character whose struggles and achievements will probably cause her to stay with me for a while.


good review thanks for this one! going to read it :)

here's my latest review, just posted it! for the predicteds! stop by! :)

Oh this sounds like a 50 FIrst Dates but with a mysterious turn other than the humor one. :) Thanks for the great review here. This sounds like quite a brain twister. :)

I did not figure out the big secret - maybe I wasn't paying attention enough?

I had the same reaction as you after reading this book; I am so thankful for my memory. What we take for granted, huh?

I've been curious about this one and your review hasn't changed that. If anything it's added to my understanding of it. I really need to get to it some day.

You know, I don't think I've read a single entirely positive review of Before I Go to Sleep. Add to that my general apprehensiveness about books that are translated into other languages almost immediately after their publication in the original language... I get a bit suspicious. (It's the massive hype. Most books so hyped they're translated so quickly tend to seriously disappoint me.)

Most readers seem to agree regarding the suspense (or lack thereof), though so far I've seen different opinions regarding the positive traits - some readers hated Christine and her voice, others like you enjoyed her discovery process. I have a feeling I'd end up on the other side of the scale, not enjoying the story because the weight of the plot holes would overshadow any potential positive trait. That and a genre I tend to avoid make me conclude that this is perhaps not the book for me...

LindsayWrites: Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy the book.

Melissa: Well, it wasn't quite the romance that 50 First Dates Was but the idea of the amnesia was the same. I actually did think of the movie occasionally while reading the book.

Stephanie: Well you know from the beginning that something is off with Ben and there really only seemed one direction that the story could go, though I kept hoping that the story would totally surprise me in the end and was somewhat disappointed when it didn't.

Ryan: I look for reading your thoughts on this book when you do read it.

Biblibio I didn't realize that this book was a translation, that's interesting. I actually also didn't think too much about the plot holes until after I finished this book so it didn't disrupt my enjoyment too much. This is a book I would probably recommend despite its flaws, though I would suggest getting it from a library rather than buying it.

Simcha, the other way around - this was translated into other languages very quickly (at least into Hebrew - I just saw it the other day). If it was translated into English I'd be rather surprised and even somewhat pleased - there is very little translated into English, particularly outside the standard fiction genres.

Sounds creepy, and I am not sure, but something really makes me want to find out more

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