Blair's Reviews > Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
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's review
Jun 19, 2011

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bookshelves: mystery-thriller-etc, read-on-kindle, 2011-release, first-novels
Read in June, 2011

Before I Go To Sleep seems to be THE book that everyone's talking about right now, so, although I have read more than my fair share of thrillers in the past couple of months, I couldn't help wanting to check it out. The book revolves around a simple but ingenious premise. Christine, the 47-year-old narrator, suffered an accident in her late twenties which robbed her of the ability to form new memories, as well as wiping out her existing memories of her life some years previous. As a result, she wakes every morning thinking she is still a young woman - sometimes even thinking she is still a child - and is unable to recognise her husband, Ben, or remember anything of her life with him. As the story begins, she receives a phone call from Dr Nash, who claims to have been working with Christine to try and recover some of her memories - without Ben's knowledge. The young doctor gives her a journal she has been keeping over the past month, and as she begins to read about her own life and progress, she finds the book emblazoned with the sinister words 'don't trust Ben'.

It's easy to see why this book has already caused a bit of a stir; I believe it comes out in paperback early next year, and I'd bet money on that edition going straight to the top of the charts. It's full of twists and turns but is very readable and easy to understand. I can see it being adapted for television or film - the chapters are very episodic and reminded me of how I used to watch Lost, speculating wildly at the end of each episode about what might really be going on. The fact that Christine narrates her own story means the reader is as much in the dark as she is, and you're constantly kept guessing about who (if anyone) to trust and what the truth of Christine's history actually is. All the strength of the story is in how engrossing it is. Reading it while waiting for a friend in my car, I was so riveted that she had to bang on the bonnet to get my attention; on my half-hour lunch at work, I started reading and eventually looked up from the book to find 50 minutes had passed.

As always with this type of book, the writing isn't brilliant - it's much more about plot than style. Christine's journal is way too descriptive and novelistic to actually be a journal - I think the fact that she was once a writer is meant to make this more realistic, but it still doesn't quite ring true. The book seems to share a narrative voice with many others of a similar genre; Christine could be any of the protagonists of Sophie Hannah's books, or The Ice Cream Girls, or Sister, and no doubt many other books of this kind (psychological/crime thrillers with first-person female narrators and a focus on either mistrusting or deceiving one's partner/family/close friends) I haven't read. I also found something about the whole story dreary and depressing, and of course it is by its very nature repetitive. Christine's situation is effectively portrayed, but it feels constantly oppressive and claustrophobic, and it's horrifying to imagine someone actually living like this; I was often glued to the book while reading but felt relieved whenever I put it aside.

All in all, this is definitely one to add to your to-read list if you tend to enjoy suspenseful psychological thrillers, but I didn't think it quite lived up to the hype. It's almost guaranteed to keep you completely gripped, but I found the way the story progressed more prosaic than I expected from all the plaudits it's received. The fact that the plot develops in a way that constantly encourages you to speculate means you may well end up accidentally guessing the final twist; I found that one of my early suspicions was fairly accurate. The level of suspense is excellent, but other elements - the characterisation, prose style and elements of the plot - are just average.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Joanie (new)

Joanie Interesting review.
I don't generally read thrillers but this one just had so much hype that it piqued my curiousity.

Lennongirl Fantastic review - my thoughts exactly. I could actually copy it word for word. Well done!

Blair Lennongirl - I'm glad you felt the same about it, there are so many five-star reviews on Goodreads and while it was good, it definitely wasn't that good!

Beverley Jones I agree with your review 100pc Blair - good but not quite up to the hype. It is coming out as a film very soon with Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong - actually seems like pretty good casting for a change :)

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