Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J. Watson

When Christine wakes up in the morning, she has no idea who she is.  There's a stranger in the bed next to her, and when she looks in the mirror, she's shocked to find herself more than twenty years older than she expects. When the man awakes, he explains that he's Ben, her husband. After an accident many years ago, Christine developed amnesia--though she can remember events for a 24-hour period, when she sleeps, all those memories are wiped away.  She can remember snippets of early childhood and adulthood but nothing since then. As Christine adjusts that day, she meets Dr. Nash, whom she's been working with recently (though she has no memory of doing so). He gives her a journal she had been keeping over the past weeks to remind herself of who she is. When she gets home and opens the book, she finds a chilling phrase across the front: "Don't trust Ben."

This is the premise for the fast-paced amnesia mystery Before I Go To Sleep. There's always something intriguing about stories related to personal identity. After all, even if all else were lost, we seem to think we'd at least know ourselves. But Christine is thrust into a world where all the knowledge she has must be provided by others; the journal is the first tool that allows Christine to take control of her own knowledge. Once she does so, she realizes Ben's been keeping secrets from her.

Watson does a nice job of keeping his protagonist and the reader on their toes as they go through cycles of trusting and doubting Ben and Christine herself. There's not a lot of depth of character, though Christine's uncertainty is nicely done.  But the twists and turns of the situation are well-crafted, even if the climax is a bit less thrilling.

Before I Go To Sleep was a quick read, but that's largely because I didn't want to put it down. Though I don't think it will be particularly memorable, it's an engaging novel that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

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