Before I Go To Sleep is yet another of those books that has been on my to-read list since what feels like forever. The promise of the upcoming film (which I believe is now out?) finally spurred me to read it, and once again I find myself regretting not having got round to it earlier!
The novel tells the story from the perspective of Christine, a woman who wakes up every morning thinking she is twenty-odd years younger than she is, and with no memory of the house she’s in, or the man in bed beside her. Following an accident some years previously, she can no longer make new memories, forgetting everything that happened in the day at night when she goes to sleep. Subsequently she relies on her husband Ben and a collection of photos round the bathroom mirror to tell her everyday who she is. However, this is thrown into turmoil when she is called out of the blue by a man claiming to be her doctor and told to look in her wardrobe for a journal. The journal appears to have been written by herself and has the words ‘Don’t trust Ben’ scrawled in the front. Upon reading the journal, Christine begins to find out for herself who she is, and how she came to be the way she is, and the truth is genuinely shocking!
Although this kind of amnesia isn’t exactly an original basis for a story (Christopher Nolan’s film Memento being another good example), S.J Watson’s psychological thriller is far from predictable. I was riveted start to finish, being immediately hooked by the strangeness of Christine’s awakening, in a room she doesn’t recognise, with a man she doesn’t know. Her gradual learning of the truth is as disorientating for us, the reader, as it is for her, and the thought that she does this every morning is truly staggering.
Prior to reading the novel I had wondered how the concept would even work without becoming repetitive, as Christine has to relearn everything again every day. But this is where the format of the journal really worked, serving as a substitute for memories. Technically the events of the entire novel take place on one day, with a large portion of the book being Christine’s journal which she is reading along with the reader. She is technically learning the story along with us, and as it got further and further in, I became as desperate as her to find out what was actually going on, and who she could really trust. The book had so many twists and turns, and every time I thought I had it worked out, it turned out completely different!
As for the characterisation, it was quite surprising how much I liked Christine. As memories define us, you would think a character who can’t retain memories would be quite hard to relate to beyond sympathy for her condition. However, I found her to be a really well written and fully rounded character, and one who you were really rooting for. I think that the way she gets round her condition (keeping her journal a secret) and is determined to learn the truth makes her a really likable heroine, and her vulnerability makes you really fear for her.
The other main characters, Ben and Dr Nash, were also well-written in that they were both incredibly hard to read. I was convinced throughout that one or another (or even both) were untrustworthy, or at the very least keeping secrets from Christine (with good or bad intentions), but was kept in suspense until the very end in what was an extremely dramatic twist. To an extent I had guessed the truth, but a huge part of it had never occurred to me, and so the revelation at the end took me by surprise!
This book is a true psychological thriller, fast-paced, thought-provoking and at times quite terrifying, and I genuinely found it hard to put down at times. I’m very interested to see how they have turned this into a film, what with a large portion consisting of the main character reading a journal, so will definitely have go and see it soon. As for the book, I cannot recommend it enough. A true page-turner!