S.J. WATSON – Before I Go To Sleep
“I would have a day of grief and pain, would remember what I miss, but it would not last. Before long I would sleep and, quietly, forget. How easy that would be (…) So much easier than this.”
That is one of the terrifying concepts explored in this exceptional thriller. What do you do when every morning you wake up, and can’t remember how you got there, what is going on, and who that man is in your bed?
Christine Lucas is a 47 year-old woman who deals with this extraordinary scenario, every single day. Having had an ‘accident’ that eventually developed into amnesia, she is unable to form new memories, as well as remember ones that have occurred in the last couple of decades. Her memory is wiped clean when she falls asleep, and on many days not only wakes thinking she is still a teenager, but also a child.
The horror of not remembering the last 20-30 years of your life I just find unimaginable. But the terrors don’t stop there. Oh no. Watson in his first novel, delivers a fine range of mind-f^&king shocks that make you truly feel sick, and lonely.
*What do you do when you can’t remember anything? How can you trust your mind, any memories that do come to you, when your mind has already failed you?
*How do you blindingly trust someone that you can’t remember?
*How do you deal when sudden and faint memories don’t match up with what you’re being told?
*And like the above opening line, what happens when you do remember something, but the pain is so harsh and frightening, that you’d rather forget it all ever happened?
The events that start to set things in motion for Christine is the presence of Dr. Nash, a neuropsychologist she’s started seeing in secret, and a journal she begins to keep in order to help her remember who she is, when she wakes each day. Her meetings with him are a series of tests to help strengthen and test her mind, to see whether there are any remainders of memory left in there, while her journal serves as a great narrative tool, not only propelling the story forward with its presence during most of the book, but it assists Christine by helping her to discover and compare what she is told day by day. Is an amnesiac a good person to take advantage of, when you know their memory fails them every morning? Hell yeah.
I learnt of this book a couple of years ago, from a work friend, who told me his mate in the UK had had his debut novel picked up and was going to be turned into a movie. Yep, a friend of a friend. Pretty cool. I didn’t get to pick up a copy at the time, but having returned from maternity leave and my work colleague asked if I’d gotten to it, I decided now was as good a time as any, buying it within a few days. It is, or recently was out in cinemas, with actors like Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth starring… you may have heard of those names. 🙂 The casting of certain actors actually made me change my opinions of some of those in the book, as it is quite common that actors have a certain reputation, and usually fit in quite nicely into the role of good-guy, bad-guy, avenger, or the romantic lead, to name a few. The casting of Colin Firth as Ben, Christine’s husband, threw me off what I was reading, but that’s all I will say. No I won’t. I’ll go as far as to say that I accidentally read the last line of the novel, and was spewing because I was only half-way through the book. But even that, although very clear, wasn’t what ended up happening as I expected, to some degree, even though the last line, and who says it, is fairly telling – BUT DON’T READ IT!
(How do you accidentally read the last line of a book? I do this thing whenever I start reading a book and get right into it, where I want to know how many pages there are and how far I’ve come in comparison… further to the look-at-the-book-from-the-top-and-see-how-far-the-bookmark-travels-through-the-spine thing I continuously do as I’m reading, I flick to the last page, and try to find the page number while trying to keep my absurdly insane and curious but don’t-wanna-know-any-spoilers contradictory eyes AWAY from the contents in the middle of the page. This time I failed. Hard when the page number was just below the last line. Damn)
It’s a fantastic premise, with real life amnesiacs having been the inspiration behind Watson’s idea. The twists and turns keep coming, and the hooks arrive quickly keeping you glued to the pages, as you’re just waiting, hoping that Christine discovers what she needs to know about her past, the broken pieces that will help her piece it all together. The last 80 or so pages I read in one go, as I just had to know how the book ended and couldn’t go to sleep until I did.
I’ve always thought of my parents and the older generation, and how it must feel for them, to know the things they know, and want to do some others, but be unable to because of their age. A young mind in an old body. This is Christine’s realisation when she wakes every day, and she sets about her day coming-to-terms with what she learns, reading her diary, and making decisions… only for it all to be reset the next day.
That’s tough. I did find it amusing how every day Christine had to read what she wrote previously, as well as write in her journal. It would take forever I thought, but it was something Watson thought of with mentions of her just skimming through certain sections. Lucky. He covered himself there.
It’s a scary thought though. There is one deliberate mention, where Christine comes back to her journal after writing of her intention to go out with Ben. She writes:
“I cannot say. I didn’t write it down and do not remember, despite it being only a few hours ago. Unless I ask Ben it is lost completely. I feel like I am going mad.”
Having to rely on others, who can be unreliable, or your journal, which if lost or you fail to write in it you have nothing to rely on, is a very lonely and scary concept. You are truly alone, with only yourself, yet no memories to back you up.
I loved his metaphorical mentions, external descriptions that expressed the real undertones happening below the surface, reminding me of what I try to do in my novels. Christine has just discovered a shocking secret and is looking at the TV:
“A remote-controlled submersible craft was exploring an underwater trench with jerky twitches.”
There is sadness too, not just with Christine wanting to forget some things she’s learnt, but with the thought: how does your family deal with you? How difficult would it be for your loved ones, if you were scared of them every day, and they had to talk you through your history, every single morning? A very sad thought emerges when Christine is having dinner out with Ben one night, and when he says he loves her, she doesn’t respond. He says “I know you don’t love me,” and Christine later thinks:
“He is a stranger. Love doesn’t happen in the space of twenty-four hours, no matter how much I might once have liked to believe that it does.”
Christine’s point-of-view is written in a very spell-it-out fashion, but I believe this is so due to the case at point – amnesia making her want to record everything, and not miss a thing. Watson’s ability to write on some very telling matters, in specific scenes, like a woman, is impressive. It makes me think he had a real good go-to girl for those points. Either that or he’s a superb transporter.
The one thing that wasn’t explored, also the one thing my cousin asked after I told her about the book, was the thought of trying to stay awake. One thought I intermittently had was why doesn’t she try to stay awake? I guess there was nothing too pressing to stay awake for, but wouldn’t it be something you’d want to test? If your memory was wiped clean every morning, would you perhaps consider only letting yourself sleep a couple of hours, to see how your memory responded then, and then only have short bursts of sleep to get through the day? I try to stay awake when I have a million jobs to do, let alone if I knew my memories would be gone the next morning!
The surprises and shocks keep-a-coming, way after you think they’ve stopped… so beware. My notes all over the second half of the book reveal how many radical theories I had, and I started to very subtly guess at what ended up eventuating, with one other main thought/hope coming true. Even so, I was on the edge of my bed every step of the way.
One line towards the end of the book, one question… it equals Terror. Pure Terror. I remember the hairs on my body standing.
Must read thriller!
Please let me know your thoughts on Before I Go To Sleep in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you 🙂