An unforgettable thriller
What if you woke up every morning with amnesia?
Before I Go to Sleep By S.J. Watson Harpercollins, $21.99
The fragility of memories has been a key element in some intriguing novels, such as those by Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane, as well as movies, from the noir Memento to the romantic comedy 50 First Dates.
British author S.J. Watson tackles the power of memories in his mesmerizing bestselling debut Before I
Go to Sleep, which has built a reputation as one of the year’s must-reads. The title also reflects the reading experience, because once you’ve read the first chapter you’ll have to finish the book before going to sleep.
Watson also adds an extra spin — not only does Christine Lucas not remember her past, but her lack of memory has robbed her of any feelings. Concerning William Faulkner’s quote “Between grief and nothing, I will take grief,’’ Christine would gladly assume grief to be able to feel any emotion except the fear that she has no idea who she is. Or who she can trust.
Each day, Christine wakes up not knowing who she is or who the man is next to her. She believes she is 27 years old, but beyond that she has no immediate clue to her past. Each day she is stunned to see in the mirror the face of a 47-year-old and to learn that she has been married for 22 years to Ben. And each morning, before he leaves for work as a teacher, Ben explains to Christine that she lost her memory 20 years before in an accident. Or did she? Because shortly after Ben leaves each day, Christine receives a phone call from Dr. Nash, a neurologist. He tells Christine where to find the journal she keeps so she can read about the bits of memory that have returned but are wiped out when she sleeps. But Ben doesn’t know that she is working with Dr. Nash. And the journal includes a chilling reminder: “Don’t trust Ben.’’
Watson bends his intense psychological thriller in myriad ways, making the reader simultaneously empathize and doubt each character. Ben appears to be a devoted husband; Dr. Nash appears to be a compassionate physician; Christine appears not to know of her past.
Each snippet of Christine’s memory appears to be a victory as well as a setback. Recovering her memory may be more frightening than she imagines. At each turn, clues to Christine’s past and present spin in different directions, leading to a shocking finale.
“It’s a cliché to call it a page-turner, but I’ve always liked (when) you want to turn the page to find out what happens next,” said Watson, 40, during an interview in Toronto. “I was trying to imagine what it must be like to have no memories at all.
“To some extent, the book is about stories: telling stories, and what we believe to be true, and how we can be affected by things just because we believed that they happened — they don’t have to actually have happened.”
Watson can barely believe his life is happening the way it is. A lifelong aspiring novelist, Watson found himself in his late thirties, working for Britain’s National Health Service, and not devoting as much time to the craft as he wanted. When his boss stepped down and it was assumed Watson would take over, he found himself at the proverbial crossroads: He could take the job or focus on writing. He took a demotion, began working part-time, and spent the remainder of his time writing.
The book has sold to 37 countries around the world, and film rights were optioned by Ridley Scott’s production company. Rowan Joffe (director of last year’s adaptation of Brighton Rock) will direct the film. No wonder the subtitle of Watson’s blog is “From aspiring writer to published novelist: the weirdest year of my life.”
“Obviously my ambition was to write a novel that would be published,” he says. “But it never, ever, ever occurred to me that it would sell to more than one country, let alone 37.” MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS WITH FILES FROM MARK MEDLEY OF POSTMEDIA NEWS
British author S.J. Watson’s debut novel has been sold to 37 countries and will be made into a movie.