Richard's Reviews > Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
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Aug 08, 11

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Read in August, 2011

(This review will contain MILD spoilers.)

Before I go to Sleep is a surprisingly old fashioned gothic, the kind where the heroine marries in haste and frets at leisure. The novelty here is that the narrator's own inability to form new long-term memories keeps her in a constant state of doubt. Can she trust her husband? Her doctor? Her best friend? It's more soapy than suspenseful, although I'm sure it will hit the sweet spot for many readers who miss Mary Stewart, or who wish Mary Higgins Clark was smarter.

That said, I admired Watson's ability to vary his lead character's personality from day to day while maintaining a sense of the core "self" that the reader can relate to. As Christine wakes each day with no memory of who she is or how she ended up in bed with a person who seems to be a stranger, she doesn't react the same way every time. Some days she seems more suspicious, other days more sad, or more accepting. That made sense to me.

But there are problems. The first is that every character needs to act in exactly the way that they do to maintain the mystery of the situation. This seems particularly improbable in the case of the doctor, for a number of reasons too spoiler-y to get into here. I read a review on this site that said Christine's family and friends are all terrible people - they're not terrible so much as unobservant, because the plot requires them to be unobservant.

My main criticism of the novel, though, lies with the ending. (mild spoilers ahead!) "Oh my god!" someone says. "I can't believe _________!!!" "I know," Christine replies. "Call me tomorrow and we'll talk about it some more." Not, "Come rescue me!" Not, "Call the police!!" This completely illogical delay allows the villian to go crazy and get with the violence. Like, super, super, nobody-would-actually-do-that crazy. Ridiculously crazy.

That killed the suspense for me. It was too over the top.

(Finally, I'd like to address two facts that bother other reviews, but that are dealt with in the narrative (again, there will be mild spoilers): The diary that we read isn't the actual diary, but a recreation of it made after the fact. So she had all the time in the world to write it and get as literary as she wanted (she is a novelist). Also, the exact situation that Christine is in at the beginning of the novel has only existed for four months. That relatively short time span actually makes many things more credible, I think.)
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