I had heard great things about the psychological thriller Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson, so I was excited when one of my book groups chose it for our May selection. It more than fulfilled my expectations with mystery and suspense that kept me turning the pages way past my usual bedtime.
This novel with the unique peek-a-boo cover (you have to check this out!) also has a unique plot. The main character, Christine, has a form of amnesia where she loses each day’s memories every night while she sleeps. In fact, she can remember nothing of her life since the accident that caused her amnesia over 20 years ago. So, she wakes up every morning, thinking she is twenty-something, not recognizing where she is or who is sleeping next to her. Each morning, after a panicked run to the bathroom where she confronts a disturbingly older image in the mirror than she expected and dozens of photographs on the walls, her husband, Ben, patiently reminds her of who she is and who he is.
As you can imagine, it is a confusing and frustrating way to live. Then, one morning, after her husband, Ben, has left for work, Christine gets a phone call from a doctor who explains that he has been working with her to restore her memory and that she has been keeping a journal hidden in her closet that will explain more. Christine goes to the closet, finds the journal, and discovers that the first page says, “Don’t trust Ben.”
Chilling, right? She is shocked by this self-warning not to trust the one person she is relying on for everything. And that’s just the beginning! Most of the novel is in the form of Christine’s journal that she has been adding to every day with reminders from her doctor, allowing herself to finally recall certain facts from one day to the next. As brief flashes of memory begin to come back to her and each day’s journal entry builds on the last, an alarming pattern begins to emerge, indicating that Ben is lying to her about certain things.
The reader flips through each page as urgently as Christine herself does, learning more with each days’ entry as a sense of foreboding builds, until the novel’s nail-biting final scene. This gripping novel makes you want to carry the book everywhere with you and rush through the pages. It’s like the book version of a really clever and suspenseful movie (one reviewer compared it to Momento). I enjoyed every minute of this book, as did the other members of my book group, and my husband, who picked it up as soon as I finished it!
NOTE: Christine's form of amnesia is not merely a fictional construct; there really are people whose memory "resets" after a short period of time. Oliver Sacks told of several such cases, including one man whose memory reset every 7 minutes, in his nonfiction book, Musicophilia, which I read last year. It is truly fascinating (and horrifying).