‘DON’T TRUST BEN’
It is remarkable how three simple words can strike such anxiety into the hearts of intrepid readers experiencing S J Watson’s debut novel; Before I Go To Sleep for the very first time, myself included. ‘Psychological thrillers’ (if I must name a category) are not usually my cup of tea, particularly the kind that look like they may promptly end up on a Richard & Judy/Oprah/TV Book Club-type list. This book however has been the exception in my case. After hearing S J Watson read from the first chapter at the Bookmarked Salon in Manchester last year, naughtily ending his reading on the cliffhanger above, my curiosity was accordingly piqued.
Christine Lucas is a 47 year old woman who suffers with a very rare and severe form of amnesia. This means that she can generally not remember anything beyond a 24 hour period. Once she goes to sleep, her memories vanish into thin air, meaning that when she wakes up she has no idea who or where she is and, most importantly, who that man is in bed beside her…
We rapidly learn that the man is Ben, her husband, and he tells her that she lost her memory in a car accident in her twenties. We also meet Dr Nash, a neurologist assisting Christine in her recovery by persuading her to put together a journal; a journal she writes in every day and that includes the quotidian facts of her life, flashbacks to her past and, most worryingly, the three words printed above. As she is forced to reconstruct her identity from scratch every single day, this journal becomes her lifeline and, we hope, a path for her out of the fog, as she begins to recollect more and more as time goes along.
The upkeep and reading of this journal is the main way that Watson manages to stop this story from grinding to a halt. We quickly realise that Christine is completely and utterly dependent on those around her and it is when doubt in these other characters enters the picture that this tale become truly terrifying, both for the main protagonist and her readers. She describes herself as living almost like an animal, completely in the moment; a comparison I thought captured her situation so vividly, reinforcing the undeniable fact that without our memories, we almost cease to exist.
This is a gripping novel and I have well and truly rapped my knuckles for the fact that this book would have probably passed me by had I not been confronted with the author himself and a tantalising virgin copy for him to sign (:-O shameless!) I surprised myself by caring so much about what happened to Christine and suffered several anxious moments on the bus to and from work as I begged her to remember crucial things happening around her. The superbly drawn characters aside, the sheer planning that must have gone into this book alone is something to marvel at…I personally wouldn’t even know where to begin…
On an extra plus side, S J Watson seems to be a extraordinarily nice, normal chap, which makes buying his debut novel all the more satisfying!