BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP - S.J. Watson
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is the story of a woman who wakes up every morning beside a stranger. She's completely forgotten the last 25+ years of her life. A woman in her late 40's, she can remember her 20's but she only gets glimpses, erratic flashes of her life since then. The man she wakes up beside every morning reminds her, yet again, that he is her husband Ben and that he will look after her. The house has photos in strategic places, there are notes on the board in the kitchen to remind her what she needs to do. What's particularly creepy about this scenario is that the reader is placed in the position of the victim's viewpoint. You're in Christine's head for a lot of her struggle. You're feeling some of the confusion, panic, disquiet and struggle that she goes through every single morning of her life. And you're seeing Ben from her viewpoint. You're also seeing the Doctor who is helping her, the one that she does not want Ben to know about.
But the reader can remember what's going on. Whilst Christine is using a journal to try to hang onto the details of her life, you don't need to read back through her life every morning. You're seeing her isolation, and you're remembering what Ben tells her, and what he doesn't tell her. You're seeing the oddness of his reactions, his stoic calmness, his acceptance of her condition. His control. You're seeing her relationship with Dr Nash, and you're remembering what he says, and does and seeing what Christine knows / can remember about him. As the outsider, so very very close to the action, you're seeing what's so obviously wrong with the scenario. You know there's something not right about Christine's life, you can see that there's somebody close to her who doesn't quite seem right. And you can remember that as the tension builds.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP has so much that I expect to dislike. The victim, a lost, poor little vulnerable lamb, surrounded by an indeterminate number of wolves, just ready for the kill. The stoic, husband who calmly accepts the situation and cares, always caring, always patient was ... well creepy is the only word for him. It therefore came as some surprise when BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP became a book that at one point I struggled to put down. It's a weirdly discomforting book. Whilst there's nothing particularly unexpected or unpredictable about what's going on here, seeing it from the victim's viewpoint, the fact that you know so much and Christine simply can't remember any of it, does make it a compelling experience. The voice of the victim is always a difficult viewpoint to be confronted with, but the point at which the creepiness abates, and real interest arises is when Christine starts to fight against the bonds that restrict. As she starts to fight the lack of memory and take control, the hold exerted by others starts to crack apart.
It's hard to describe how I felt about BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP. It almost feels like two books - the one I was experiencing as I read it, the one that I'm looking back at. Whilst reading the book, the scenario certainly caused considerable disquiet and it was compelling. Looking back, whilst the inevitability of the plot gives the reader compassion for Christine struggling to save herself, there's a bit too much repetition of some elements and the emotional manipulation is overt. I can really understand that the ending is going to be perfect for lots of readers, for me that final inevitability was too sugar-coated.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is undoubtedly an interesting book and one I'd think is going to generate some wildly varying opinions. For this reader it was interesting, at points frustrating, car-crash fascinating, and frequently surprisingly hard to put down.
Christine wakes in a strange bed beside a man she does not recognise. In the bathroom she finds a photograph of him taped to the mirror, and beneath it the words ‘Your husband’.
Each day, Christine wakes knowing nothing of her life. Each night, her mind erases the day. But before she goes to sleep, she will recover fragments from her past, flashbacks to the accident that damaged her, and then—mercifully—she will forget.