Before I Go to Sleep
S.J. Watson
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Buy *Before I Go to Sleep* by S.J. Watson online

Before I Go to Sleep
S.J. Watson
368 pages
February 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Watson’s powerful, claustrophobic tale has his shattered protagonist waking from a night’s sleep, convinced there’s something not quite right. There’s a man in her bed, a stranger who smiles at her and tells her that he’s Ben, her husband. But she doesn’t want to hear him or even believe what he is saying: “You had an accident, a bad accident. You suffered head injuries and you have problems remembering things.”

Christine’s loss of memory has affected her life profoundly. Nothing stays with her; even the memories of how she met and married Ben are dead on arrival. Even more bizarre is that she still thinks she’s in her mid-twenties. There seems to be nothing in between but a long, silent emptiness that has led her to this bed with this mustached man in this strange, bland, smartly comfortable house in Crouch End, North London.

Christine sees little else but a void in her mind where vast gaps and “tiny islands of memory” seem to have vanished from her reality. Is this really her life; is this who she is? As Ben attempts to encapsulate her with care and security, Christine has the distinct impression she’s about to go into battle, "or that some kind of battle is inching slowly towards her.”

Watson’s psychological novel unfurls in tense, protracted detail as Christine tries desperately to pull her fractured memories back into place. Caught between self-doubt, mistrust and fear, plagued by singular complications, Christine goes bravely in search of connections. Suddenly she’s remembering the breakfast she shared with Ben and the sunny afternoon atop Parliament Hill, the shapes of London’s skyline appearing before her without quite knowing why.

Dr. Nash, Christine’s therapist, tells her that progress is difficult to quantify but that she should continue to write down the day’s events in her brown leather journal. As Christine’s mind starts to come alive “like sparks of electricity,” the book becomes her salvation, unlocking dark secrets that until now have seemed like fiction. More memories hit her, each striking more violently, the image of a scarred, bearded stranger the most terrifying while the pages of the journal take on even greater meaning, paralleling Christine’s ever-increasing paranoia that Ben is protecting her from the truth of her accident.

Clouded skies and London's monochrome, rain-drenched streets encapsulate a tale acerbated by peril and very real danger, the plot complicated by a violent turn of events. We follow Christine’s circuitous route leading her to the seaside town of Brighton where she was found all those years ago, where the brutal, sadistic truth of who stole her life and memory from her is finally revealed.

Filtering the action though Christine’s splintered memories, a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of champagne are the author’s only clues to his heroine's unlikely fate. Strangers crisscross Christine’s life, connecting and disconnecting, ever elusive. The finale seethes with fiery menace while Christine's memories turn full circle, finally allowing her to be triumphant in the face of fear.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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