Debut Author Snapshot: S.J. Watson

Posted by Goodreads on June 3, 2011
S.J. Watson In debut author S.J. Watson's absorbing psychological thriller, Before I Go to Sleep, a woman named Christine wakes up each day thinking she's a carefree twentysomething, only to find that she is a middle-aged wife with amnesia. She does not recognize her husband sleeping beside her or her own wrinkled face in the mirror, and every morning brings the same horror because anything she learns during the day is erased at night while she sleeps.

Christine's only saving grace is her diary, in which she chronicles her life and reminds herself not to trust her husband. Watson, a specialist for hearing-impaired children in London, shares a portrait of amnesia patient Henry Molaison—one of psychology's most famous case studies—and a source of inspiration for Before I Go to Sleep.

Goodreads: How did you first become interested in amnesia?


Henry Molaison
S.J. Watson: Before I Go to Sleep has its origins in an obituary I read about a man called Henry Gustav Molaison. Molaison died in 2008, but ever since a surgical procedure in 1953 he had been unable to form new memories. I wondered how it must feel to wake up every day thinking it was 1953, and was struck immediately by a mental image of a woman looking in a bathroom mirror to find that, instead of a teenager reflected there, she had become a middle-aged woman.

Christine's condition isn't exactly the same as Molaison's, though. Like most people with this type of amnesia, Molaison could only retain memories for a matter of minutes, not hours. As I wanted to tell Christine's story in her own voice, I had to create a condition for her in which she could retain memories until she slept—otherwise the book would get very repetitive! So, while the novel isn't about Molaison, it was certainly inspired by his condition.

GR: Are there known cases of patients who lose memories while they sleep?

SJW: There's only one that I've come across—and interestingly enough I first heard about her when we were sending the book out to editors last year. It was quite a sobering moment. This woman not only suffered with an amnesia almost identical to Christine's in the book, but she was the same age, too. It really reminded me that though my book was fiction, amnesia does affect people all over the world and at all ages and can be devastating.

GR: Since the book is written in first person, the reader only knows what Christine knows, but she is, of course, an unreliable narrator. How did you use Christine's limitations to your advantage when structuring the book?

SJW: Christine's condition meant that I could take the reader on exactly the same journey that she is on. I wanted to create a situation in which the reader not only empathizes with Christine, but also experiences the same doubts and fears as she does. It also meant that I could show how reliant we are on our memories to construct our sense of self. Christine starts the book almost as a blank slate, but by the end of it she, along with the reader, has learned about her past and about how she came to be where she is, and she emerges as a much fuller person. It was great to be able to take the reader on that journey.


Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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message 1: by Dee (new)

Dee sounds kind of like 50 First Dates...


message 2: by Rafiq (new)

Rafiq It looks a good book on psycho of most women who do not like to be called aged or above 25 ..........!


message 3: by Diane (new)

Diane Dickson I have just finished this. I read it on the recommendation of my daughter who loved it and I have to say that I enjoyed it hugely. I was enthralled and read it pretty much at one sitting. I did think that once or twice the author fudged a couple of things where it wasn't fully explained how the MC knew things but having said that as it is such a strange and unusual condition it works anyway.


message 4: by Diane (new)

Diane Dickson No, I think that it has much more depth than that. It is quite an emotional read and actually has some surprising twists it is darker than your average chic lit definately.


message 5: by Abba (new)

Abba The writer really got it right and the book is a mysterios and keep you guessing and imagining about what would happen when a person who wake one day and found his memory completely blank and I remembered reading similar book by:James Hadley Chase.I really recommend it especially to those who are interesting in Psychology of mind and brain.


message 6: by Abba (new)

Abba The writer really got it right and the book is a mysterios and keep you guessing and imagining about what would happen when a person who wake one day and found his memory completely blank and I remembered reading similar book by:James Hadley Chase.I really recommend it especially to those who are interesting in Psychology of mind and brain.


message 7: by Jane (new)

Jane This one went straight onto my TBR list. It's a fascinating premise.


message 8: by Mmueller (new)

Mmueller I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a mystery with human characters. The premise is so disturbing and Christine's courage in dealing with it kept me interested to the surprising conclusion.


message 9: by marymurtz (new)

marymurtz I read this a couple of months ago in an advance reader copy and have been urging all my friends to get it! It is one of the best books I've read in years.


message 10: by Kristy (new)

Kristy I'll probably start this book this weekend.


message 11: by Linda (new)

Linda This was a fantastic read for a debut author. Very well thought out and indeed kept you guessing until the end. Cannot wait for another novel by this author.


message 12: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Interesting book. Actually freaky - I had to read it twice before I was comfortable with understanding it. The first read was confusing and by the second read I could better understand the girl. It is book about understanding oneself. Keeping a journal is a basic writing task in high school English classes and was a way that people documented their life during the earlier centuries (18th & 19th), this journal writing seemed to be a combo of the two previously mentioned whys of journal writing. I would like to read more books by this author.


message 13: by Ramona (new)

Ramona selvage This was a fantastic read for a debut author. Very well thought out and indeed kept you guessing until the end. Cannot wait for another novel by this author.


message 14: by Wes (new)

Wes zemel This was a fantastic read for a debut author.


message 15: by Darling (new)

Darling policeman It is quite an emotional read and actually has some surprising twists it is darker than your average chic lit definately.


message 16: by Denita (new)

Denita mcdaniel outstanding


message 17: by Marble (new)

Marble smelly it is quite an emotional read and actually has some surprising


Animedubbedonline brilliant


message 19: by Dreams (new)

Dreams nucleus This was a fantastic read for a debut author. Very well thought out and indeed kept you guessing until the end. Cannot wait for another novel by this author.


message 20: by Spade (new)

Spade Spade No, I think that it has much more depth than that. It is quite an emotional read and actually has some surprising twists it is darker than your average chic lit definately


message 21: by Paul (new)

Paul Blanchard awesome


message 22: by Nativemedia (new)

Nativemedia No, I think that it has much more depth than that. It is quite an emotional read and actually has some surprising twists it is darker than your average chic lit definately.


message 23: by Wendie (new)

Wendie This was a great page turner. Well written with clues about what was to come but not obvious until you get almost to the end. Loved this book.


Numerologyanswers nice


message 25: by Feline (new)

Feline herb Tremendous


message 26: by Poorbo (new)

Poorbo bcat good


message 27: by Zenabis (new)

Zenabis good


message 28: by Crimescene (new)

Crimescene Cleanuptucsonaz nice


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