Book review: Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson   12 Apr 2012

Tina Mair

This was the first ebook I have read on my Kindle!! Having not wanted to pack too many heavy books for my recent business trip to China I experimented with an ebook and will definitely be back for more.

Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson is the debut novel from a British audiologist- apparently written between shifts at the hospital. Anyone who has seen the film “50 First Dates” will instantly recognise the main theme – a woman has lost her memory and each day is a new voyage of discovery about her own identity.

Chrissie, the main character in the novel suffers from a rare form of amnesia brought on by an “accident” years earlier- she wakes every morning beside a man she does not recognise, in a house she cannot identify as her own space and most horrifying in a saggy middle aged body she really does not want to believe is her own. She can only retain memories for 24 hours and sleep wipes out what she has gained from the day. Her source of information about who she is, what she feels, what her life was like and is like now comes only from her husband Ben.

With the help of her doctor who is interested in her unusual case, and unbeknownst to her husband Ben, Chrissie begins to keep a journal to try to help herself to remember. Early on our suspicions are raised about “Ben”- is he really a completely selfless carer who only wants to protect Chrissie…….. or does it suit him for his “yet to be discovered but probably sinister reasons” that she actually cannot remember her own life and it is up to him to educate and manipulate her?

Our suspicions are aroused early on and confirmed by emerging details that show Ben is lying……… but why is the key question?? Why tell her she hasn’t written a novel when she has, why tell her they had no children …………… and then change the story and tell her their soldier son died recently? How convenient that most old photos were supposedly lost in a fire and even more convenient that her best friend emigrated to New Zealand and they lost touch.

The plot has some predictable elements – but nevertheless kept me engaged as Chrissie’s horrifying story slowly emerges. I felt a strong pull to “just read a bit more” to find out what would happen, did they really have a child who died, where was everyone else from her former life………. and of course just who really was Ben??

However, the ending disappointed me somewhat and I found it hard not to question some elements such as the fact that apparently a stranger is allowed to sign out a vulnerable patient with memory issues from a closed ward - and how convenient that under the circumstances none of the staff really knew what her husband looked like.

I found the build up to the climactic ending enjoyably tense, although also frustrating as it irritated me that Chrissie was now able to recount events in a far more detailed way than apparently she should have been given her memory issues. These distractions aside – the ending was satisfying as our questions have been answered.

So – my final verdict.

Gripping and entertaining.. but also a little irritating!

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