Book Review: BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson

Despite this novel’s title, do not read it at bedtime. Because you won’t sleep. Next thing you know, it’ll be 5 a.m. and you’ll be wondering how the night had vanished.

In S.J. Watson’s debut thriller, Before I Go to Sleep (Harper, June 14), Christine doesn’t have trouble sleeping. She just can’t remember anything when she wakes up. Every morning, her memory reboots and she has to relearn everything about her life, the strange man in her bed, and how she arrived at this condition. At her therapist’s suggestion, she starts recording details in a secret journal, and finds that the people around her may not be telling her the whole truth, if any at all. Worse yet, what she doesn’t know could definitely hurt or even kill her.

Amnesia seems to be the theme du jour this summer; Sleep is the first of three books I’ll review over the next week in which memory loss plays a key role. It’s also the most claustrophobic. The scope of Christine’s fractured mind is already small; it threatens to completely┬áclose in on her every night. Watson’s use of first person present tense (her journal entries are in past tense) traps the reader along with Christine in a shifting and shifty world in which a feeling of menace lurks. Her reality changes from day to day, and the only person she can fully trust is herself, but even that is questionable considering her mental state. If she could, Christine would probably say to Ingrid Bergman’s character in Gaslight, “You think you have problems?”

The only slight downside for me was being able to figure out what was going on about two thirds into the book. I wasn’t trying to spoil the fun for myself, mind you; Christine doesn’t get out much or meet many people so this limits the number of possible conclusions. But I didn’t have all the answers and Watson kept me pinned until I did. When I awoke the next morning, the memory of this book was still with me, and it will probably linger in your mind, too, after you put it to bed.

Nerd verdict: Anxiety-laced Sleep will keep you awake

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Lauren
    June 7, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Can’t wait to read this one. A thrilling “50 First Dates.” ­čÖé Thanks for reviewing!

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    June 7, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Yikes! Don’t know as I could with that right now. Memento was a great movie and quite a while ago, but I’m still freaked out by it. You are describing my worst nightmare, waking up and not knowing the people around me.

  • Reply
    Poncho
    June 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Seems like a great read! I agree with EIREGO, waking up and not knowing the people around you sounds terrifying. But I’m interested in the book, just hoping I don’t “guess the ending” so soon…

  • Reply
    Lauren
    June 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    There are some days I wake up and WISH I didn’t know anyone around me. ­čÖé

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    June 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Lauren—I didn’t even think about this resembling 50 First Dates! And, ah, I’m glad I’m not in your vicinity when you wake up some days.

    EIREGO—There are things I fear more (snakes, “real” housewives of anywhere) but this affliction would be pretty disturbing.

    Poncho—I guess you’ll have to read it to see if you can figure it out!

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    June 8, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Sounds unsettling {Memento had me topsy turvy, too!}, but the intrigue side of it might sway me into reading it. If you figured out much of it two thirds in, PCN, I probably won’t have the pennies dropping until seven eighths of the way through.

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    June 15, 2011 at 5:15 am

    Ha! When I was describing this book for a colleague he also mentioned 50 First Dates…which I did not see, but know the premise of.

    Shell, Denise Lehane made a parallel to Memento in his blurb of this book.

  • Reply
    Marjorie
    June 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Sounds like a great read and would love to read it.

    • Reply
      Sandy
      October 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm

      Marjorie, it was a “great read” I loved it and finished reading it in 2 days, it’s really fast paced.

  • Reply
    Sandy
    October 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    This book is nothing like “50 first dates”!

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