Jason's Reviews > Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
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Jul 24, 12

bookshelves: for-kindle, 2012, reviewed
Read in July, 2012

My negative attitude is a ruse, I swear it. I am such a positive little outlooker. Nearly every book I read starts off with five stars in my head. It barely has to earn anything; it just has to hold on to what it started with. But wow, this book fell off a cliff or something! What the hell happened??

First let’s back the truck out of these plot holes and start from the beginning.

The premise of this psychological thriller is fairly straightforward. The first person narrator has amnesia. More specifically, she has a mythical combination of several different forms of amnesia which happen to co-exist simultaneously at the exact same time. Maybe that should have been my first clue. She has retrograde amnesia as a result of a mysterious traumatic episode that occurred years earlier, and on top of this she has anterograde amnesia which affects her episodic memory: she cannot retain anything new. My second clue that this book would be an eye roller is that she has a short-term memory capacity of many hours—essentially an entire day’s worth—and it is erased only when she falls asleep, which flagrantly stretches the definition of anterograde amnesia by a large margin.¹

So this unreliable narrator with her unreliable memory is trying to piece together the details of her life while basically having to start from scratch every day. I love the idea of this. I love the idea that without memory retention, one cannot build experiences and without experiences, he cannot forge interpersonal bonds with others, which means he cannot develop relationships or attain any kind of emotional maturity or love. He cannot even experience the feeling of anticipation because it would require a preexisting sense of future combined with a knowledge of the past, both of which are conspicuously absent when you have to be reminded every morning that you have amnesia to begin with. There is no future, there is no past, there is no anticipation of anything. It is only the here and now. Because of my interest in this I was able to suspend my beliefs a bit regarding the nuances of the narrator’s form of amnesia.

Still, Watson manages to muck it all up. The narrator’s sense of mistrust, confusion, and paranoia are there, but the frustration of her existence is glossed over at each subsequent sunrise for the sake of plot progression. And the ending, OH GOD THE ENDING. It devolves so quickly to predictable Sleeping with the Enemy–style fare that all enthusiasm for the psychological part of the story is lost. Truly, I think this could have been a decent novel, I really do. Watson’s clichéd structure, though, leaves too much to be desired and the book simply does not live up to its potential.

¹After writing this review, I came across a blog post by the author who sort of corroborates my assertion that the narrator’s form of anterograde amnesia is somewhat of a fabrication. Sort of.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 69) (69 new)


message 1: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I loved Sleeping with the Enemy!! It was maybe the first movie I saw that showed an abused woman fighting back. Well, attempting to extricate herself from the situation and then fighting when she had to. I loved that she needed help from others and took charge of her own life. I extrapolate that you are a woman hater for not liking that crappy movie! This is the internet and I am never wrong!!


message 2: by David (new)

David I just recently referenced Sleeping with the Enemy in one of my blog entries.

Why you steal Jay Rubin?


Jason Oops, I left that sentence unfinished. I enjoyed that movie, too, but only as a sort of superficial thriller, which is what this book turned out to be, too. I was hoping for something more because the premise sounded so interesting. So you enjoyed that Julia Roberts movie but didn't you think it was totally predictable?


Jason David, which one? I thought I read all of them but I don't remember that...


message 5: by David (last edited Jul 24, 2012 08:22AM) (new)

David Jason wrote: "David, which one? I thought I read all of them but I don't remember that..."

The 'Supreme Douchebag' god-bashing one.

I saw Sleeping with the Enemy in the theater when it first came out. I still remember the uneven hand towels. A seminal film.


Jason Ah! No, I have not read that one. I must have found it too obscene. Shall read now. :)


message 7: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez The premise of this psychological thriller is fairly straightforward. The first person narrator has amnesia.

Oh, god...


message 8: by Kris (new)

Kris Nailed it!


message 9: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Jason wrote: "So you enjoyed that Julia Roberts movie but didn't you think it was totally predictable?"

I was young and not cynical then. Everything caught me by surprise, including her triumph at the end.


Jason The Eh! Train wrote: "I was young and not cynical then. Everything caught me by surprise, including her triumph at..."

Well, I think even if it wasn't predictable in its time, it's become part of a genre that has a very typical plot structure. So the plot here is as predictable as the plot of SwtE would be to us now.

There. Is that enough backpedaling for ya? =)

Mike wrote: "Nailed it!"

Thanks, Mike!


message 11: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez The Eh! Train wrote: "I was young and not cynical then."

If you're cynical, then we're all screwed.


message 12: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Jason wrote: "There. Is that enough backpedaling for ya? =)"

Woman hater!!!
:) You nut!


message 13: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Paquita Maria wrote: "The Eh! Train wrote: "I was young and not cynical then."

If you're cynical, then we're all screwed."


LGM!!!


message 14: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Ha take that book. Shame when people use psychological disorders as a major plot point and then don't even get them right. Is this in any way like Momento, or am I only drawing that idea because they both involve massive amnesia.


message 15: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I hear something like "the narrator/main character has amnesia which they must rise above through various improbable obstacles" and pretty much discount whatever book or movie it is based on that alone. I dunno, seems cheap.


Jason The anterograde amnesia premise is a lot like Memento, but Chris Nolan handles it so much better than Watson does in this book. In the film, Leonard wakes up every day with the knowledge that he has amnesia. He can only retain memories for short periods (half an hour?) and relies on notes to himself to maintain a sense of chronology/linearity in his life. All his confusion is evident to the audience; it is understood and grasped. In this book, Christine can hold memories much longer but then she wakes up forgetting everything again, including the fact that she is an amnesiac. Sometimes she thinks she's 20 years younger than she is, because that's how long she's had this condition. But a lot of mornings, she wakes up not feeling much frustration probably because Watson doesn't have time to dwell on it. So a lot of that is lost. And extraordinarily her memory is conveniently empty in places where the biggest mysteries lie and yet it works where it needs to work for the plot to be maintained, so her condition feels disingenuous. Plus, the ending. OH GOD THE ENDING. Have I mentioned the ending??


message 17: by Jason (last edited Jul 24, 2012 09:33AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jason Paquita, that premise works really excellently in Memento, though. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it—it is one of my favorite movies. From a storytelling perspective, I think the film works so well because of its unique narrative structure (two story lines, one moving forward and the other moving backward, alternate until they meet in the middle), whereas in the book it's completely linear.


message 18: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Wait... is the ending bad?!?! Haha. Why you make her forget she forgets Jay Rubin?! Yeah, that does sound rather clumsy and overly convenient. Alas, we cannot all be Nolan, but oh how I wish


message 19: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Paquita Maria wrote: "I hear something like "the narrator/main character has amnesia which they must rise above through various improbable obstacles" and pretty much discount whatever book or movie it is based on that a..."

Agreed, it was cool the first time around, but I feel like it has been overdone. Fight Club was fun, but every film afterwards that relied on the same twist was not. Especially that one weird french horror film, I'll have to remember the name. Oh no, amnesia!


message 20: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Yeah, that's the exception for me (and isn't there always one?). The really amazing thing about that movie is that it gets away not only with the amnesia thing, but also with a nonlinear narrative, unnecessary use of monochrome, and one of those circular plots which coils back on itself, all "ah, and so we begin again, and it will never, ever end!" style (I actually love a lot of movies that do that last thing). Somehow mushing all of that together works really well.


message 21: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Jason wrote: "Paquita, that premise works really excellently in Memento, though. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it—it is one of my favorite movies. From a storytelling perspective, I think the film works so..."

Speaking of the threaded story lines, have you seen his first film, Following? Caught it on netflix, it takes a moment to get into and to, but it all gets pulled off really well. The way the timeline is chopped up and delievered in rotating threads is really disorienting and cool


message 22: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez High Tension is the movie you're thinking of. Terrible. Funny story about High Tension: I watched it with my roommates and thought that despite the fail of an ending, it looked really cool because it was all noir and the blood was black shooting out of that decapatated head and stuff. Then we put on a different movie that was supposed to be in color, and realized we had mistakenly watched the entire movie (High Tension) in black and white because all the cables weren't plugged in properly. It was so much cooler in black and white, too.


Jason s.penkevich wrote: "Jason wrote: "Paquita, that premise works really excellently in Memento, though. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it—it is one of my favorite movies. From a storytelling perspective, I think the..."

Oooh, no, but as a Chris Nolan fan, I should definitely check it out. Perhaps it was a precursor to Memento? I've seen just about everything else of his, I think.


message 24: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Paquita Maria wrote: "High Tension is the movie you're thinking of. Terrible. Funny story about High Tension: I watched it with my roommates and thought that despite the fail of an ending, it looked really cool becau..."

Yes, that's it! When it ended I groaned. That is hilarious, I see how that would really add to it too. That makes me wonder what other movies could be made even better in that format. Probably a lot of them. Sadly I saw it in full color in an overpriced movie theater.


message 25: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Jason wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "Jason wrote: "Paquita, that premise works really excellently in Memento, though. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it—it is one of my favorite movies. From a storytelling pers..."

I'd never heard of it until netflix popped it into my face. It is all black and white too, for real black and white, and super low budget (watching it I wondered if it was his student film or something). Nolan executed the ending very nicely.


Jason Nolan's remake of Insomnia was very good, too, if you haven't seen it. I've never seen the original.


message 27: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Jason wrote: "Nolan's remake of Insomnia was very good, too, if you haven't seen it. I've never seen the original."

Oh wow, I didn't realize that was Nolan. Haven't seen either yet but I'll make sure to now. Nolan is cool. I also need to see the new Batman even though simply existing in society caused the ending to be spoiled already.


message 28: by Kris (new)

Kris s.penkevich wrote: "That makes me wonder what other movies could be made even better in that format...."

Frank Darabont actually shot The Mist in both b&w and color... and the studio preferred color. But it's far, far cooler in b&w.


message 29: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich That is cool, shame they picked color. There's something about black and white that makes everything seem more intense and interesting. At least I think so. Horror films should all be black and white.


message 30: by Kris (new)

Kris s.penkevich wrote: "That is cool, shame they picked color. There's something about black and white that makes everything seem more intense and interesting. At least I think so. Horror films should all be black and white."

Some--Dario Argento!--look lush and gorgeous in color. But I agree with your point about intensity; there's something closer to the horror of a dream about the b&w Mist... (it's on the dvd).


message 31: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez No, no! Freddy must be in color! And Texas Chainsaw Massacre! And the Shining! And Rosemary's Baby! They neeeeeed their colors.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways *deleting from Kindle*

Appreciate the warning, Jason.


message 33: by Kris (last edited Jul 24, 2012 10:10AM) (new)

Kris Paquita Maria wrote: "No, no! Freddy must be in color! And Texas Chainsaw Massacre! And the Shining! And Rosemary's Baby! They neeeeeed their colors."

It's like shooting with the wide composition or the tighter (tv-sized) frame -- one isn't "better" than the other; you need to shoot to amplify the possibilities of the form you have. So, yeah, there are some flicks that revel in the color -- Freddy K! Darabont's interesting because he wanted (and aimed at) that shadow/light play of b&w....

I'm a horror geek. Endlessly disappointed by horror films and fiction, but still a longtime sucker for the genre.


message 34: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I know, it's an almost constant disappointment! However, when horror movies shine, they're a few of my favorite things. Also, it's basically the only genre where I'm even willing to watch movies that I have heard horrible things about, and fully expect to hate. They're still fun!


message 35: by Steve (new)

Steve I was thinking of Memento, too, but I see you guys are all over that. Instead, I'll ask if this is kind of an anti-Groundhog Day. I'm not sure which would be worse. When I think of waking up to Sonny and Cher every morning, then running into Ned Ryerson soon thereafter, I might opt for a total lack of memory.


message 36: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Paquita Maria wrote: "No, no! Freddy must be in color! And Texas Chainsaw Massacre! And the Shining! And Rosemary's Baby! They neeeeeed their colors."

That is true, the Shining without color would loose a lot. Let's just say the bad films then ha. I'm with you both too, I keep coming back to horror films expecting to be disappointed again and again. It just makes the good ones that much better.

Rosemary's Baby, gahh how did i forget about that movie? Now I won't be able to sleep. Again.


message 37: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Steve wrote: "I was thinking of Memento, too, but I see you guys are all over that. Instead, I'll ask if this is kind of an anti-Groundhog Day. I'm not sure which would be worse. When I think of waking up to ..."

Nice haha! No wonder he spends so much time blowing himself up.


message 38: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell What, nobody has made the obligatory comment about how people think the Psycho stabbing scene isn't black and white? //makes it

....The remake was in colour, wasn't it? //checks Yeah....yeah, it was.


message 39: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell s.penkevich wrote: "That is true, the Shining without color would lose a lot"

I'm really sure the ocean of BLOOD that comes roiling out of the elevators in that flick would lose a lot of impact in b&w (not that I had nightmares about that for years, oh no)....

OTOH it was the old creepy b&w horror flicks I saw as a kid on a shitty little portable TV in my bedroom at 3 AM that scared me the most, I don't know why. - OH! and of course one of the most famous b&w-to-colour transitions of all: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/25... AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH


message 40: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez The Night of the Hunter! Such a good b/w scary movie which skillfully maneuvers light/shadow in monochrome. That scene where you can see the woman in the lake still creeps me out when I think about it. It's spooky-pretty.


message 41: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Paquita Maria wrote: "The Night of the Hunter! Such a good b/w scary movie which skillfully maneuvers light/shadow in monochrome"

Oh ghod and what about the lantern or whatever it is swinging back and forth in the cellar in Night of the Living Dead? No way that scene would work in colour.


message 42: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Word. Two years ago, my friend Aria and I were supposed to go as Johnny and Barbara in full on black and white makeup/costume, but it was too expensive and difficult to manage in the time we had. If I don't go as the skrewnicorn this year, I'm going to try to find someone to join me in making that costume a reality.


message 43: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Oh, I guess I should clarify: for Halloween.


message 44: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell What about a full-on Night of the Living Dead tribute zombie walk? That could be fun!


Jason I think The Exorcist is still, to me, one of the most frightening movies of all time. Especially with that originally unincluded scene of Regan walking backwards down the staircase...ack!


message 46: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Jason wrote: "I think The Exorcist is still, to me, one of the most frightening movies of all time. Especially with that originally unincluded scene of Regan walking backwards down the staircase...ack!"

Pea soup would definitely not come across as well in b&w.


Jason Moira wrote: "Pea soup would definitely not come across as well in b&w."

True dat.


message 48: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Jason wrote: "Moira wrote: "Pea soup would definitely not come across as well in b&w."
True dat."


I love how the discussion here has COMPLETELY derailed into examples of f/x in horror movies. It's like the best of St John's seminars. GOODREADS FTW.


message 49: by Mary (new)

Mary she has a mythical combination of several different forms of amnesia which happen to co-exist simultaneously at the exact same time - This explains a lot of people I know. Really.


message 50: by Jason (last edited Jul 25, 2012 04:36AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jason You should send them back to bed.


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