Thursday, August 16, 2012

Read this before bed and you'll likely lose sleep

I've read a lot of really amazing debut novels this year. Amor Towles' "Rules of Civility," Roberta Rich's "Midwife of Venice," Paul Elwork's "The Girl Who Would Speak For the Dead," and "The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh all come to mind. 

"Before I Go To Sleep," by S.J. Watson (June 2011, HarperCollins, $14.99 paperback, 368 pp.) also falls in that category. The suspense/thriller of a different sort was given to me by my sister, who predicted I would tear through it. I finally picked it up last week and just like Jennifer said (she's always right!), this is a book I didn't want to put down.

The book is told from the viewpoint of Christine Lucas, a 47-year-old British woman who wakes up every day with no memory. She wakes up feeling like she's 20, and then looks at her self in the mirror and sees her body aged beyond the age she thinks she is and has trouble putting it all together (we all do that ... right?)

Christine wakes up every day in bed with a stranger - one we learn is her husband Ben. Ben does his best to fill Christine in on the pertinent details of her life before heading out the door to work each day, leaving her with a list of things she might do (laundry, walk, etc.). Christine spends the rest of the day trying to figure out who she is and how she's become this way.

Ben tells Christine she was hit by a car years ago and the resulting head trauma has permanently - and likely irrevocably - damaged her memory. Christine can conjure no memory of the incident, and, as with all the other facts about herself, she has to take Ben's word for what happened.

Unbeknownst to Ben, Christine is sought out by a physician who claims he's making advances in the realm of memory loss. Dr. Nash advises Christine to start keeping a journal, and to put it in a place where every day she can read it and re-learn the memories of the day before - and possibly discover new memories along the way. 

Christine does start to keep a journal and it DOES help her make strides with her memory. However, those memories don't always come without a price. She remembers giving birth to a son, Adam, only to learn from Ben that Adam has died. She remembers she was a writer, and discovers she published a novel and was working on a second when she had her accident. Christine remembers her best friend from college, Claire, only to learn from Ben that she and Claire had a falling out and that Claire since has left the country, possibly to New Zealand. And, most intriguingly, she starts to remember the details of a brutal attack by a lover - a strangulation and near-drowning. Ben tells her he knows about the lover and has forgiven her. But Christine still has questions.

So, the reader follows Christine through her days, waking up next to Ben. Sometimes she's naked and so is he. Often he tries to make love to her, although she feels she doesn't even know him. The creep factor just keeps rising.

With the help of her journal, Christine learns quite a bit about her past, and can literally see the lies that it seems Ben tells her each day. He will omit the fact that she has a son from the daily update, for instance.

It seems that Ben is the only person Christine can trust, other than her doctor. But then Christine finds Claire and rekindles their friendship. Claire helps Christine to remember many of the details of her life that she's forgotten since her accident. And the creepy feeling the reader has an inkling of starts to get stronger and stronger.

This novel will keep you turning pages into the wee hours of the morning to try to figure out just what's going on in Christine's life. Something doesn't add up. Well, a LOT of things don't add up.

"Before I Go to Sleep" is not what I'd call great literature, but it is a good read.

I'm not going to spoil the thrilling climax of the story, but I will say it answered some questions but left me with a few more.

Once you've read the book and want to compare questions the book left you with, let me know!

Book summary (from the author's website):

Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is 47 years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.

But it’s the phone call from a Dr. Nash, a neurologist who claims to be working with Christine without her husband’s knowledge, that directs her to her journal, hidden in the back of her closet. For the past few weeks, Christine has been recording her daily activities—tearful mornings with Ben, sessions with Dr. Nash, flashes of scenes from her former life—and rereading past entries, relearning the facts of her life as retold by the husband she is completely dependent upon. As the entries build up, Christine asks many questions. What was life like before the accident? Why did she and Ben never have a child? What has happened to Christine’s best friend? And what exactly was the horrific accident that caused such a profound loss of memory?

Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more un-believable it seems.

Click here for a link to download a PDF of the first chapter.

Click here to view the book trailer. Apparently this is the trailer from the Australian version of the book. It's kind of dark.

About the author:

Steve 'S J' Watson was born in the Midlands, lives in London and worked in the National Health Service for a number of years.

In 2009, Watson was accepted into the first Faber Academy Writing a Novel Course: "Before I Go to Sleep" was the result, a novel that attracted attention from many of the UK's major publishers. Rights have already been sold in 30 languages and a film version is due to beginning shooting later this year.
Read a Q&A with Watson about "Before I Go To Sleep" here.

Visit the author's website here.


Tracie said...

I read this book last summer when it first came out, I think. I liked it very much, and I didn't want to put it down until I could find out what happpened to her. I was disappointed in the ending, however. I thought it seemed to speed up and rush through the part that you'd been waiting all along to find out. I liked it, and would recommend it, but with some reservation.

Michelle Karas said...

Tracie, I thought the same thing about the ending. All that buildup for ... that? But still, I'd recommend the book. It certainly keeps you interested!

We're going to have to have a little book club meeting about it...