An un­for­get­table thriller

What if you woke up ev­ery morn­ing with am­ne­sia?

Ottawa Citizen - - BOOKS - OLINE H. COGDILL

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

TYLER AN­DER­SON, POSTMEDIA NEWS

Bri­tish author S.J. Wat­son’s de­but novel has been sold to 37 coun­tries and will be made into a movie.

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