Review: SJ Watson – Before I Go to Sleep

If August has been designated my ‘catch-up’ month, then this is a book I really should have read before now. Before I Go to Sleep, the début novel by S J Watson won numerous plaudits when it was published last year, including the 2011 CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, and became a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller. Perhaps inevitably for a book that was so hyped it also failed to impress some reviewers and a quick glance at the Goodreads site shows a bewildering mix of one to five star reviews. So after being lent a copy by a friend, it was with some trepidation that I opened the book.

The story is fairly well known, but in summary the female protagonist, Christine, wakes up every morning and has to begin her life all over again. She suffers from a condition that means every time she goes to sleep she forgets the last twenty years or so. She is unaware that she has had an accident, that she is married to a man called Ben or has had a son who was killed in Afghanistan. The book is narrated through Christine’s eyes so we as readers see her dislocation every morning when she wakes up and has to rediscover her life afresh.

However Christine discovers that she has been seeing a doctor who has encouraged her to keep a notebook of her daily life. By picking up this notebook every morning, at first because of reminders from Doctor Nash and then through instinct or a gradual recovery of her memory, Christine discovers that  Ben has deliberately been withholding information about her life. As Christine tries to piece her life together, Ben suggests they go away for the week-end….

The greatest strength of this book was its ability to draw you into Christine’s story. It’s a great idea, a plot where the potential victim has to rediscover the menaces in her life every day. I think in relation to Christine’s illness you really do have to suspend your disbelief. I find it difficult to believe that someone who has had that level of care over the past twenty years is suddenly released into her home life without any involvement of the social services and that her husband Ben has found it so easy to repel doctors from contacting Christine.

I found it a page turner up to the point where Christine goes away with her husband and the writer is very good at keeping enough suspense to make you want to continue reading. Perhaps inevitably the denouement was slightly disappointing and again required you to suspend reality. But overall I thought it a good idea, and for a début book well executed.

The book has been reviewed by scores of publications including The Guardian and The Independent. Blogger’s reviews include Eurocrime, Mysteries in Paradise, Petrona and Crimesquad.

12 thoughts on “Review: SJ Watson – Before I Go to Sleep

  1. Glad you liked the book- a lot of people do and it’s won prizes so you are in a majority! Personally I found Christine unconvincing as too many small details did not add up & intruded on my “suspension of disbelief”. I also found the doctor with all the time in the world to keep meeting her (on the NHS?) in cafes unbelievable, as well as the circumstances of her discharge from the mental health unit. Mostly, I was disappointed by the denouement/”twist”.


  2. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – I’m glad you liked this one. I’m usually very wary of books that get an awful lot of hype. As you say, quite often they don’t live up to it. It really is an interesting concept for a novel too. And I think I’m going to set aside a month as you have set aside August and simply play catch-up with at least a few of the novels on my TBR list…


    1. August has been an invigorating month to stop me feeling guilty everytime I see someone I’ve told that I have their book and intend to read it. I did slip and buy a book – a Karen Campbell. 😉


  3. I too am glad you liked it even though I thougt it pretty awful – I don’t want other people to have rotten reading experiences though. Unlike you I did not get drawn into Christine’s story at all – I didn’t believe her as a realistic female character nor as somoeone experiencing what she was meant to be experiencing…I also found lots of inconisntencies in the way her illness was manifesting itself. But life would be dull if we all agreed 🙂


  4. kathy d.

    I haven’t read this book, and since my TBR pile is frightening, as is the TBR list, I haven’t gotten to it. Because there is such a split in opinion, I’m not convinced to use quality reading time to read it.
    And one thing that global mystery lovers are not split about is Andrea Camilleri’s curmudgeonly Sicilian detective, Salvo Montalbano. (I just saw your post at an excellent blog about this.)
    He is a bundle of contradictions, crusty but soft-hearted, eccentric but efficient, a great detective but a mess in his personal life. However, once one gets into these books, one cannot stop. It’s like eating chocolate.
    Whenever I’m in a funk, I get a book in this series and I’m never disappointed. And often the humor is laugh-out-loud quality.


  5. kathy d.

    And I didn’t even start at the beginning. I read August Heat first and then went to the first one, read a few, jumped around. I suppose it matters, but it’s not life or death — well, maybe for the characters, but not for the readers. Anyway, we’ll all catch up. There are some important issues in the middle books in Montalbano’s personal life, which should be read in order.
    Love to hear how you find these books.
    I’m ready to buy the dvd’s and I darn well might do it or do a trial run. Can’t wait.


  6. Pingback: The Best of August’s Reading « crimepieces

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