Every now and then a novel comes along and completely revolutionises your favourite genre. A few years ago Stieg Larsson did just that with the amazing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and I would like to go as far as saying that S.J. Watson has done it with Before I go to Sleep. Since publication in 2011, it has won a host of awards and accolades, like the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, as well as glowing reviews from bestselling authors like Tess Gerritsen and Dennis Lehane. It has been published in in 37 different countries and is already touted for film adaptation under the masterful eye of Ridley Scott. Not bad for a debut novel.
At it’s core, Before I go to Sleep is quite simple: every morning, Christine wakes up with no recollection of the day before and has sketchy, at best, memories of various stages of her life. Throughout the day, she experiences flashbacks and can recover fragments of her past, of her life before the accident that caused her illness. Fans of Adam Sandler’s 2004 comedy 50 First Dates will understand how a relatively simple premise can work itself into a complex and compelling tale. And Watson does just that.
Readers go on the journey of discovery with Christine and experience her terror and confusion as she struggles to grasp the reality of her situation. A considerable part of the novel is written as diary entries, as it is revealed Christine is seeking therapy without her husband’s knowledge, and part of this therapy involves writing down the events of the day and any memories she manages to recall. Watson so exquisitely describes the anguish of her condition through the journal entries, as Christine speaks of the fear and uncertainty she experiences every day. As the novel progresses, Christine begins to recall more and more of her life before the accident, and what she remembers is more chilling than anyone could expect.
Before I go to Sleep is a complex psychological thriller that forces the reader to consider some heavy philosophical questions about our humanity – what are we, if not an accumulation of our memories? So much of our day to day life relies on knowledge and memories that are amassed over time, and without them our whole existence is reduced to 24 short hours, signifying the start and end of our living memory. Alone, these thoughts are terrifying enough. But blended with the perfect mix of mystery and secrecy, Watson also forces us to explore the prospect that the one person who we rely on for our memories could be lying. When you can’t remember the love of your life, how are you to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not? And then, if you start to notice holes in the story, how do you convince anyone, even yourself, that something is not right?
Most people I know will be receiving this book from me at some point in the future. Unlike mine, it won’t have Watson’s signature (I was fortunate enough to meet him at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival in 2011) but it will provide them with a thoroughly entertaining and downright creepy tale that will truly stay with them long after the final word.