Before I Go to Sleep, by S J Watson

Article published on December 7, 2011.

Christine wakes up in an unfamiliar bed, next to an unfamiliar man, in an unfamiliar home and an unfamiliar life. The bathroom mirror is festooned with photos of her through a life she can’t remember, and soon she finds out that her memory has been severely affected by an incident causing extensive brain damage. She goes to sleep each night, and wakes as if the previous twenty years haven’t happened at all, with only tenuous recollections of her life before the incident.

Then her doctor calls her, a man whose name is just as new to her as everything else, and he directs her to a shoebox in her wardrobe, where she finds a diary. A diary she’s been keeping, in an attempt to begin rebuilding her ability to remember things. She begins to read, and over the course of the book her life begins to unfurl into a broad, colourful tapestry, carefully committed to the paper every night before she goes to sleep and loses her new memories again. But are they beginning to come back? And what secret lurks in the depths of her husband’s filing cabinet? Before I Go to Sleep will grip you on page one and carry you, kicking and screaming, to the beautifully crafted ending.

The first thing that struck me about Before I Go to Sleep was the extent to which Christine was a believable character. So much so that I initially assumed S J Watson was female – an assumption that turned out to be incorrect. The second thing was the sensitivity with which he treated scenes that could otherwise be garish and gratuitous. And up until I was about 70-80% through my Kindle version of the book, I was pretty sure I knew what it was all about.

And then came the third realisation; this book is terrifying. Through a plot that is chillingly realistic and characters which twist and turn, as well as an excellent narrative strategy, Watson will catapult you into a nightmare that seems all too plausible.

In my spare time, I am a writer – and avid reader – of horror and science-fiction. Watson is, at least with this novel, neither… And yet this book is the one I lay awake considering. This is the book that haunted me. And this is the book I’ve been recommending to all my friends since. The book I now recommend to you. Get it, enjoy it, and never take your own mental health for granted again.

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