Before I Go to Sleep
by S. J. Watson
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Length: 359 Pages
Release date: June 14, 2011
Blurb via GoodReads:
Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.
Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more unbelievable it seems.
Before I Go to Sleep was a book with an interesting premise but a failure in execution. Christine’s nightly memory wipes mean that she starts each day as a blank slate (at least in terms of the last twenty or so years of her life) and spends all of her time trying to fill in the blanks of those lost years. The problem? This becomes repetitive and dull quite fast, and the reader sees plot twists coming ages before the protagonist does.
It becomes clear very early on in the story that something is very wrong. Christine finds a note which she’s left for herself, warning her not to trust her husband, Ben. Despite this, as she keeps track of everything she learns in her journal and catches him in lie after lie, Christine makes seemingly endless excuses for Ben. He must be lying to her to protect her. He must have a good reason for not wanting her to get medical treatment to help with her memory. He must love her. Christine, we need to talk. I know you’re going through a lot of trauma, but come on. If something feels ominous as hell, listen to your gut. Or if you can’t listen to your gut, maybe listen to very clearly worded messages from yourself.
The pacing in this also just felt very off. I think the story the author wanted to tell here could have been adequately told in a novella. The slow, creeping pace was, I think, meant to slowly build a sense of dread before the climax at the end, but it was really just boring because the resolution became obvious too early. You’ll spend half the book waiting for events you’ve already guessed to finally play out on the page.
Major spoilers for the section ahead!
The entire plot hinges on one key fact: the man Christine believes to be her husband, Ben… (gasp!) isn’t Ben! He’s actually a man with whom she’d briefly had an affair, and he became overly attached in the violent, stalker ex-boyfriend sense. He is the reason for the injuries which led to her memory loss. After she spent years in several different hospitals and her husband left her, Not Ben took it upon himself to pose as Ben and check her out of the inpatient facility.
Despite the fact that this is an amnesiac patient who can’t identify her own husband, apparently no one in this healthcare facility felt the need to check any form of identification on the man who decided to take her home. I don’t work in healthcare, but that sounds like… not how that would work. Can I get a sequel with the lawsuit where Christine makes millions of the hospital that sent her home with her stalker, no questions asked? Because I need that sequel. Christine deserves it.
One last issue, and it’s a biggie: Christine’s memory issues are basically magically cured when she recovers the memory of the attack which caused the problem. (Her doctor makes a comment about how she may not actually be cured, but the overall vibe is very much that everything is going to be Just Fine now!) There’s a kind of throwaway line about how, since an initial trauma caused her problems, it’s certainly plausible that another trauma could have cured them. I… have no words for that, honestly.
Again, I really loved the premise for this book, which sadly made the shoddy execution all the more disappointing. This book needed half the length and maybe a third of the foreshadowing that it had to make it a truly good read.
Thank you for reading! What’s a book you’ve read lately that had a painfully obvious plot twist? Were you still able to enjoy the book? Discuss in the comments!