Even Stevens’s CBR-III review #33: Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Christine Lucas has a unique condition: when she goes to sleep each night, all her memories are erased and she wakes up in the morning having no recollection of who or where she is. Each day, her husband, Ben, reminds her through stories and photographs that twenty years ago she had been in a terrible accident and had formed a type of amnesia in which she could not form new memories after the accident. Christine has recently begun working with a new doctor, Dr. Nash, who suggests she keep a journal so she can try to retain some of the pieces of her life from day-to-day. As she begins recording the events of her life, she realizes that Ben may not be telling her the truth about several things, including what actually happened to her the day she lost her memory.

This book unfolds mainly through Christine’s journal entries. This format, having the story unfold from the point of view of a possibly unreliable amnesiac, has the potential to be a confusing mess, but Watson manages to make the story both coherent and fascinating. Where he excels is in presenting Christine’s reactions to her situation. Some days she is angry, others content, and most often she is desperate to know what happened to her and why she can’t make herself remember her life. She really only has contact with Ben and Dr. Nash and she clings to them and what they tell her, while all the while being suspicious about whether or not they are completely truthful with her or if they have ulterior motives. Even after she starts writing the journal, Christine questions her own reliability: did she write the truth or did she fabricate a story out of anger, sadness, desperation, etc.

Throughout the book there is a growing sense of dread, that something is not right and there is something that she (and we) are missing. It is difficult even for the reader to guess at what that problem could be, or if there is anything wrong at all. The reader knows only what is presented through Christine’s fractured world and it is a frustrating and compelling experience. The last quarter of the book takes a bit of a turn towards the suspenseful, but Watson expertly sets it up so that it doesn’t feel forced or tacked on in any way. I’ll admit it: I thought I had this book figured but good. I didn’t. Not at all. It is rare that a book surprises me, but this one did. I think this would also make a great re-read; knowing the ending now it would be fun to spot all the little clues dropped throughout.

I only have one little gripe, and it is the best kind: I wanted more. Most of the book is getting to know Christine and watch her make progress with her condition. It evoked a lot of reactions from me: happiness, sadness, heartache and sympathy, and hope that she will one day overcome her condition. The last quarter of the book wrapped up rather quickly, though not unsatisfactorily, and that’s where I would have liked more. It’s hard to explain why without spoiling it, but ultimately I am happy with where Christine’s story landed. The writing is fantastic, Christine’s story is moving and fascinating, and there’s even a pretty interesting mystery in there to boot. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Read it!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Even Stevens’s CBR-III review #33: Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

  1. scootsa1000

    Wow, sounds great. Just added it to my library list. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Review: Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson « Romancing for Thrills

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