Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson (2011)

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Interest Level: Adult
Before I Go to SleepChristine Lucas wakes up in a strange bed, next to a man she doesn’t recognize. She’s horrified to spot the wedding band on his ring finger – not only did she get so wasted she slept with a stranger, but a married one to boot. She finds the washroom and there faces the real truth, literally in the mirror. She has aged 20-some years, and doesn’t remember any of them. The man reveals he’s her husband; she was in a coma and developed amnesia, and her brain no longer forms new memories. Every day she wakes up and has to learn her past over again. On the advice of her neurologist, Christine has been keeping a journal, and today he calls to introduce himself and tell her where it’s hidden. She begins to read, and we are voyeurs into Christine’s discovery of her life. Watson starts out strong and with the journal device avoids the trap of a written version of Groundhog Day or 50 First Dates. Christine’s character is beautifully drawn – so well, I was astonished halfway through to discover Watson is a man. (I am ashamed to admit that.) The plot and subplots could use a little more finesse. I figured out the big plot twist fairly early on, and am not alone. But it is an impressive debut that kept me reading right to the last page, and Watson neatly handled the ending, leaving the unaswerable questions to the readers’ imagination. This isn’t quite a mystery, not quite a thriller, though it has elements of both. Instead, similar to Barnes’ award-winning Sense of an Ending, this novel explores the ideas of memory and identity. What are we, Christine asks in her journal, if not a collection of our memories?
Despite a few weaknesses, this is a great first novel and one that lingers. More discussion and reviews of this novel:


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