four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
By: 
S. J. Watson
user_rating: 
0

A-BeforeIGoToSleepIn 2009, S. J. Watson enrolled in the first Faber Academy "Writing a Novel" course in London, and later wrote this debut novel between his shifts as an audiologist at London's St. Thomas's Hospital.

The Story: After an automobile accident, Christine Lucas is afflicted with a rare medical condition: every 24 hours, her memory "resets." Every morning, Chrissie has to relearn the basics of her existence: the name of her husband (Ben); whether they have any children; and so on. Before I Go to Sleep is a series of entries from Chrissie's journal, which she keeps in an effort to remember details from day to day. The first entry in the journal is, simply, "Don't trust Ben." Soon, however, as she writes additional entries, she discovers inconsistencies in what Ben has been telling her about her life. Chrissie must discover her true history before her growing paranoia destroys her.
Harper. 368 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780062060556

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"The structure is so dazzling it almost distracts you from the quality of the writing. No question, this is a very literary thriller. ... it proceeds from ordinary life in tiny, terrifying steps, and is all the better for it." John O'Connell

Richmond Times-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"Watson has written a thriller that's fueled by infectious paranoia. Think of it as a nifty little beach book with a pedigree that runs back to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. ... Just don't be surprised if you find yourself peeking nervously at your fellow beachgoers as you read Watson's cunningly seductive book." Doug Childress

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars
"[Watson] manages to make this appalling brain injury both understandable and believable ... This is a great psychological thriller with a clever twist. You may think you know what's happening, but then Watson throws you a curve." Margaret Cannon

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"In his mesmerizing debut ... Watson bends his intense psychological thriller in myriad ways, making the reader simultaneously empathize and doubt each character. At each turn, clues to Christine's past and present spin in different directions, leading to a shocking finale." Oline H. Cogdill

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Watson's take on the material is clever, convincing and moreish. ... But as the plot quickens, the need to have Christine reading her way to enlightenment slackens the tension. ... The ending feels hurried; a sentimental postscript to the meticulously plotted main event. But these are minor gripes." James Kidd

Critical Summary

Praise for S. J. Watson's debut has been almost universal. Yes, we've seen the amnesia theme before--but here it is rendered exceptionally well, and Watson keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Even though the novel is written in journal form, from Chrissie's perspective, many critics agreed that Watson still manages to keep the novel taut and suspenseful. Nevertheless, some critics felt the ending too rushed or too convenient. Despite the quibble, the novel is a great ride.