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.