If I should forget before I wake…
Publisher: Black Swan (Random House)
First Published: 28th April 2011
Date Reviewed: 10th November 2016
She wakes up in a bed next to a man she does not recognise. The mirror shows a woman much older than she is. It’s been years; Christine discovers she’s had an accident that means every night her memory is erased. She must trust her husband, the man in the bed.
Before I Go To Sleep is a fast-paced psychological thriller that repeats itself intentionally and remains a page turner from start to finish.
Christine is an unreliable narrator of a particular kind – if she could be, she’d be trustworthy. She’s as factually accurate as possible; you have to keep your wits about you. Due to Christine’s role as narrator, and the first-person viewpoint that entails, as the reader you are as in the dark as she is about everything. The only advantage you have is that Watson wants and needs to clue you in more than than he does Christine. The character takes things at face value so whilst it’s fair to say there’s an element of growing together – you and her – your journey is particularly engrossing.
The clue is in the genre; Watson doesn’t provide too many red herrings because he doesn’t need to. The success of this book lies in its ability to make you doubt and dissect everything and indeed you come to form most every possible conclusion out there. There’s a section towards the end where the narrative crawls, almost to a halt, and if you didn’t know otherwise you’d say Watson wrote too much; in actual fact what happens is that, having now exhausted all the possibilities, you’re just waiting to find out which it is.
If you worked it out early, you may be less enthused, though it’s likely you’ll appreciate what Watson has done and the work that went into it. This is perhaps where timing comes in – if you’ve read lots of books that sport the same/similar conclusion you likely won’t feel as compelled. This is the sort of book it pays to mull over after finishing, to look again at what Watson has done, at the editing that must have happened, at the timing, the structure, of it all.
The writing is good. There’s no time for descriptive passages and you wouldn’t remember them anyway. There are plenty of questions posed in the book and all are answered. Only one or two plot points may inspire frowns – situations at the end it would spoil the story to write about – the morality of relatives to patients, that sort of thing, if that makes sense. Are parts convenient? Yes. Does it matter? Not really.
Before I Go To Sleep forces you, at some undisclosed point, to look at a tough subject. Its mainstay is, as Renée Knight said recently, something that works because it’s real and could happen to anyone. It’s scary, it’s shocking, and it’s one heck of a ride.
November 20, 2016, 4:55 pm
I read this shortly after it was released and absolutely loved it. We watched the film version last year and, from what I could remember, it kept quite close to the book.
Still… one of those that was definitely best in book form.
November 22, 2016, 11:58 am
I loved this first time when it came out, and even on a second read a year or so later, knowing all the twists and turns. I found it easier to appreciate the planning and plotting behind the book on a second read, as I wasn’t as caught up in guessing the ending.
November 28, 2016, 8:58 am
Kelly: That’s good to hear, regarding the film. I’ve heard it didn’t do too well but haven’t read enough to know why yet. Yes, with something like this – the narrative style – book form is of benefit.
Mary: I’ve wondered about how it might stand up to a re-read. I asked Watson about timing and how difficult it was to get it right – you get a good sense of the work that went into it on the first read but yes, I can see a second read being a lot better in the case of technical aspects.