Before I Go to Sleep – S. J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep review

Before I Go to Sleep – S. J. Watson
Black Swan, 2014
First published by Doubleday, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep begins with Christine waking up not knowing who she is, where she is or who the man is lying in bed next to her. She soon discovers that he’s her husband and he tells her that she has a condition which means every time she falls asleep, her memories are erased. After being contacted by a doctor, she finds a journal she’s been keeping – something which she’s told to hide from her husband. Reading the journal, Christine begins to learn more about herself and, as we read along with her, we soon discover that the people she trusts may not be telling her the full story…

The novel is an enjoyable one and I quickly found myself drawn into the story and its mystery. There’s a sinister edge to the story, and Christine’s mistrust of people and her surroundings, her fierce desire to find out about herself and what happened, and her paranoia that things are being kept from her are drawn well. When reading I was constantly trying to read between the lines in an attempt to work out who was telling the truth and what was really going on. Even though I had my suspicions as I was getting closer to the end, I didn’t fully predict the novel’s resolution.

It’s the concept of this novel which I find most interesting and is what drew me to the book initially. The concept of having a main character who cannot remember who she is or her past is a really interesting, but difficult, concept to pull off. The majority of the book is made up of Christine’s journal and it is this that we read, learning along with her about herself and trying to decipher the events which led her to where she is today. While this works well on the whole, it feels contrived in some places, can be a little repetitive, and sometimes lacks realism, with whole conversations recounted word for word. It also puts us at a distance from the action, meaning I felt quite removed from what was going on at times. I also felt quite distanced from Christine. But perhaps this is to be expected if the main character doesn’t even know herself.

Yet despite the small problems I had with the journal, I can’t see how else this book could have come into being without the journal being the bulk of the book. How else can the protagonist reveal information if it is forgotten as soon as she sleeps? It works well as the reader is in exactly the same place as Christine – we don’t know anything about her, we don’t know who to trust or who to believe – and as we continue to read, we gather more information and build up a picture of this woman and the events which could have led to her condition.

I love the questions this book throws up: what are we without memory? What happens to our identity if we cannot remember our past? How much does our past, and memories of our past, impact on our today? How are relationships affected by an inability to remember? What happens when our perception of ourselves relies wholly on someone else? For this reason, I think it would be a great choice for a book club.

While I did have to suspend belief at times throughout the book, it’s an enjoyable read that kept me turning the pages until the end. I think it’s a book where I enjoyed how it made me think, rather than the book itself necessarily. But it’s great for an easy-to-read bit of escapism.

Have you read Before I Go to Sleep? What did you think? Have you seen the recent film adaptation?



15 thoughts on “Before I Go to Sleep – S. J. Watson

  1. I really enjoyed it, though I had to suspend my disbelief a bit, especially as the journal became longer and longer and yet she was still able to read it every morning. But that didn’t stop me enjoying the ride, and, as you say, the idea of who are we if we don’t have our memories is an intriguing one. I’ve got a review copy of Watson’s new one, Second Life, and am interested to see how that compares…

  2. The idea is a scary one, isn’t it? Forgetting yourself every time you go to sleep. I’d either want to never go to sleep…or never wake up. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but you’ve got me intrigued. Might have to give it a try.

  3. I read Before I go to sleep it’s right outside my comfort zone but it was the Birmingham big city read and I had a free copy. I found it a page turner but predictable and ultimately unsatisfying, but I know I am in the minority.

  4. I really enjoyed this book, although you are definitely right that the whole journal thing is pretty unrealistic! It was definitely gripping though, and it certainly asks some interesting questions. I have been meaning to watch the film since if came out, but haven’t got round to it yet, so hopefully I will watch it soon!

  5. I haven’t read it yet, or watched the film, but I was really interested in the concept of a female main character who loses her memory. Who is she? Would she marry the same man? I love your sincerity when it comes to the book being repetitive, because it was one of my worries, but I think I will give it a try anyway.

  6. I read Before I Go To Sleep some time ago now. Like you, I initially picked it up because the concept intrigued me, I hadn’t read anything like it. The reading experience itself was enjoyable, however I did find parts to be a bit ‘meh’. I did actually recently get rid of my own copy of this, it is the kind of book that can only be read once, I think.

    I haven’t seen the movie, and am not likely to unless it ends up on Netflix sometime in the future, but I do wonder how it pans out in visual format.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • I agree, I can’t see myself rereading it. It’d be interesting to see the film at some point just to see how the concept translates to the screen! Thanks for commenting 🙂

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