Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep
Before I Go to Sleep
You have to marvel at the premise behind S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep. Of all the challenges to set for yourself as a writer, why on earth would you choose to create a narrator who can't remember things from day to day? Would you, as a writer, have to waste a lot of words with said narrator just catching up from the previous chapter? Watson really makes it work though, creating a very creepy and more interesting version of 50 First Dates.

This book is divided into three parts. In the first part, we meet Christine Lucas. She wakes in a room she doesn't recognize, next to a man she doesn't know. In short order, she (and we) learn that she has a rare form of amnesia where she loses her memories while she sleeps. Sometimes she wakes remembering nothing past childhood or her teen years. She is entirely dependent on a man who has to introduce himself as her husband every morning. It's not much of a life, but it's a lot better than the institutions she stayed in after her accident.

In the second part of the novel, Christine finds and reads a journal she's been keeping and hiding from her husband. The first words in it are "Don't Trust Ben"--her husband's name. Everyday, a memory specialist she's been secretly working with calls her to remind her where the journal is. This is where you start to see Watson's skill as a writer. She uses that journal in such a way that the novel zips right along, without getting bogged down by the logistical problems of the premise. Through the journal, we learn that Christine is being lied to. Ben doesn't tell her about the novel she published. He tells her that her best friend moved to New Zealand. Most damningly of all, he lies to her about her son and her accident.

As part two moves along, the mystery deeps. We start to wonder, along with Christine, what kind of man this husband is. There is something seriously wrong and the dread and tension ratchet up as the book moves along. In part three, everything comes to a head. I can't say much more without getting into deep spoiler territory. I will say that you can see some of the twists coming, if you're paying attention. But it's a very satisfying conclusion.

One of the blurbs compared this to a book version of Memento. They're not far wrong, but this book doesn't take the premise as far as that film did. It's not nearly as cynical as Memento was. In a way, I kind of wish Watson had given the book a darker resolution. Every now and then, it's satisfying in a different way to read a book with an unhappy ending. Books like that, like 1984, stick with you for the rest of your life.

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