So the story goes that S. J. Watson was employed with the British National Health Service but dreamed of writing. Accordingly, he cut back on his work hours, took a very demanding writing course or two, and honed his craft. BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is the first of what is hopefully many manifestations of these. Anyone who reads this book will not soon forget it. Unless, of course, you are afflicted with the condition so dramatically presented here.
You will be looking for the extra pages even as you re-read the last one, which is just one reason why it's a great, jaw-dropping ending.
Christine Lucas, the narrator, suffers from a very unusual form of amnesia that robs her of her memory when she goes into a deep sleep. As a result, she wakes up each morning not knowing who or where she is. Her husband, Ben, is to all appearances attentive, loving and patient. He has decorated the bathroom mirror, and on the walls are labeled pictures to reacquaint her with her surroundings --- and with herself. He leaves her notes on a board telling her about the day and making suggestions for her activities. And he answers her questions about herself, and patiently so, even as it is obvious that he has answered them numerous times before.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP begins today, actually, with Christine awakening and going through a routine of confusion leading to a slow and incomplete awareness. During the course of this day, she receives a telephone call from Dr. Nash, a physician who is secretly attempting to treat her for her amnesia. At his prompting, Christine goes into her closet where she finds a journal that she has been keeping on a daily basis, following a pattern of writing each day's events in the journal, hiding it, and then forgetting about it until the following day, when Dr. Nash reminds her of its existence. At the front of the journal, written in block letters, is a cryptic warning: DON'T TRUST BEN. It is this journal that constitutes well over two-thirds of BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, covering what is approximately two weeks of Christine's life, and revealing what may or may not be inconsistencies in what Ben has been saying about Christine and her condition.
As it develops, everything she knows, and much of what she has forgotten, is wrong --- from the etiology of her condition to the most basic elements of her existence. Revealing this does not give anything away; for there is a dark mystery to what is occurring, one that is slowly revealed piecemeal, even as it is demonstrated that Nash's therapy may well be working. Or may not be. For someone is lying, and maybe everyone is, just not about the same thing. An atmosphere of dread and deceit, with bad intent and otherwise, permeates BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP. Sorting it out, or at least attempting to do so, is all a part of the process that makes this debut work a one-sit reading exercise from beginning to end.
You will be looking for the extra pages even as you re-read the last one, which is just one reason why it's a great, jaw-dropping ending. It's no surprise that BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is scheduled for publication in over 35 countries, or that the film rights have been snatched up. Shoot it in black and white, with a Vaseline glaze over the lens. That's how it reads.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 27, 2011