BookBrowse Reviews Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

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Before I Go To Sleep

A Novel

by S.J. Watson

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2011, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2012, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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A debut psychological thriller about a woman who can't remember her past and struggles to discover her identity

I'll be honest - Before I Go to Sleep wasn't what I was expecting when I agreed to review the book. So many recent novels have been dubbed "psychological thrillers" that the term's meaning has perhaps become watered down, leaning more toward "thriller" than "psychological." I suppose I was expecting a good but not great page-turner that would entertain but otherwise have little depth. What I found instead was an exceptionally well-crafted novel of slowly building suspense - a "thinking woman's" thriller, if you will.

Author S.J. Watson does a marvelous job of conveying his heroine Christine's predicament as she oscillates between fear of and love for her husband Ben while never knowing for sure whether or not he can be trusted. Although it's clear early on that Ben is lying to her, is this because he's protecting her, or is something more sinister behind his deception? Are the people and events she "remembers" true memories or products of her imagination? Are her doctor's motives as altruistic as they appear? I, for one, was kept guessing from start to finish. It reminded me very much of a Hitchcock movie in the vein of Suspicion or Spellbound where one is never really sure if characters are good or evil. The plot doesn't move quickly, but the revelations come at exactly the right pace to keep the pages turning late into the night; Watson's sense of timing is exquisite.

Also exceptionally well-done is the author's portrayal of Christine herself. We truly believe she is a woman wrestling with memory loss. We feel her unending confusion, her sorrow at not remembering her family, her guilt at not being there for them over the years, and the pain of waking up each day to learn anew that she is no longer the 29-year-old she remembers herself to be. I found it telling that I had to re-write my initial review notes for this book, substituting "he" for "she" when referring to the author. The narrative, told from Christine's perspective, is so realistic I didn't even consider the fact that the author could be male. It is also clear that Watson is intimately familiar with the challenges faced by those with amnesia; readers will, without a doubt, leave the novel with greater empathy for individuals affected by the condition.

The book's plot does falter a bit in the end. Its climax, while perfectly logical, felt somewhat cheesy to me - too pat, too easy, too "made-for-TV," particularly compared to the careful construction of earlier chapters. Still, the breakneck pace tempered my disappointment, and I have no doubt that many will find the book's dénouement completely satisfying.

Before I Go to Sleep is S.J. Watson's first novel, and I sincerely look forward to his next effort. It's an extraordinary debut and will introduce readers to an uncommonly talented author. It is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a complex and unique plot that will likely keep them guessing until the last page is turned.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in June 2011, and has been updated for the February 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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