Before this novel hit, ninety percent of its readers thought S J Watson must be a woman.

Instead, the author is a 40 yr-old audiologist with the British National Health System. Before I Go To Sleep is one of the finest psychological thrillers I’ve read in years.

The jacket blurb reads: Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? This is the rich premise that Watson mined when he was accepted in 200 into the first Faber Academy Writing a Novel course. The result is nothing short of spectacular, leaving Dennis Lehane to comment: “Exceptional . . . It left my nerves jangling for hours after I finished the last page.”

Watson’s protagonist wakes up in the morning in a strange bed, lying next to a man she doesn’t recognize. When she went to sleep she was in her twenties; the face that looks back at her in the mirror is middle-aged and unfamiliar. So begins the Christine’s journey, over and over, as each day her husband has to explain that she has suffered a terrible accident twenty years ago that has left her without the ability to form new memories. Her husband, Ben, is the soul of patience as he explains that Christine is now forty-seven, has been in and out of hospitals and institutions, and that he has to go through this with her each morning when she wakes up.

Christine is stunned, and the reader feels her struggle every day to comprehend what has happened to her. Then one day she is at home when Ben is working and she answers a call from a Dr. Nash, who claims he is a neurologist she’s been working with without Ben’s knowledge. He explains she has a hidden journal and tells her where to find it in the back of her closet. For the past few weeks, she has been recording her thoughts and actions. Christine turns the pages, reading past entries about her mornings with Ben’s patient explanation, her secret sessions with Dr. Nash, and even small flashes of memories of scenes from her former life.

The reader cannot help but be drawn into Christine’s plight. Even as the awfulness of her situation becomes apparent, it raises unsettling questions. Is it possible to love or trust without memory?

As she reads more and more of her journal, and documents the memories she is having, her questions to Ben also become unsettling. What was their life like before her accident? What happened to her plans to be a novelist?

Christine reads more and more of her journal each day and keeps documenting the memories she is having, while her  questions to Ben become unsettling. What was their life like before her accident? What happened to her plans to be a novelist? Why has her former best friend deserted her? And perhaps most disturbing: why didn’t they have a child? For inside, deep down in an irrevocable place, Christine is convinced that she’s a mother.

As Christine’s makes journal entries build, she begins to pick up inconsistencies in Ben’s story. A huge one concerns the details of the accident that robbed her of her memory. She tries to reconstruct her past as her memory flashes start to build. The tensions rises as the pieces of Christine’s past life don’t seem to hang together, and the story builds to a stunning climax.

It would be a shame to tell you any more of this intriguing plot; you’ll simply have to read it for yourself, and I promise you’ll stay up at night to have the resolution revealed.

Watson says this past year has been “the weirdest year of my life.” His debut novel has quickly risen in the charts, and been translated into several languages and published in foreign countries. Ridley Scott has optioned the movie and signed Rowan Jaffe to write the screenplay and direct. It will be interesting to see how this novel translates to the screen, and who is cast as Christine, as the entire novel is told from her point of view. Don’t miss the chance to read this original story before the movie hits the screen.

 

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