This is not 50 FIRST DATES!
Christine spends the first hours of each day reading in her journal and the rest of it recording what happens to her as it happens so she will remember it tomorrow. The victim of a hit and run almost twenty years ago, Christine cannot remember anything from one day to the next. She writes at her doctor’s suggestion, keeping both the journal and her doctor a secret from her husband, Ben. Over time, she learns she has had a book published, lost most of her possessions in a fire she inadvertently set, and lost her nineteen-year-old son in Afghanistan…or has she?
Told mostly through Christine Lucas’ journal entries, Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson is a compelling page-turner. As an amnesiac, Christine awakes every morning unsure of herself. She “remembers” who she and her husband are by the labelled pictures posted around the bathroom mirror. Every morning, after she adjusts to the years she’s lost and her husband goes to work, she takes a call on her cell phone from Dr. Nash, who reminds her of where she’s hidden her journal. She reads it, gets caught up with her life, and then moves forward, frantically recording everything so she can pick up where she left off tomorrow. At times peaceful, at times panicked, Christine’s journal kept me on the edge of my seat, unable to put it down.
In Before I Go To Sleep, everyone, from the main character on down, has secrets to keep. It is these secrets that kept me reading. As we read each new entry in Christine’s journal along with her, both the protagonist and the reader realize things don’t add up. Is Christine a reliable narrator? Is the journal a fabrication, the next fiction she imagines? Is Ben as loving as he seems? What, if anything, is he hiding? Was Christine having an affair or was Ben? Who is Claire and why did she abandon Christine all those years ago? Is Dr. Nash to be trusted? These are questions the reader struggles with as the novel progresses; they are the questions Christine struggles with every moment of every day. While Christine begins each new day with a blank slate, reading the same entries in the same journal, Watson makes a concerted effort to spare the reader from that monotony, often glossing over Christine’s reaction to her age, the accident, the temporary separation from her husband after the accident, and the death of her son, but the parts that are repetitive are forgiven because the rest of the story is so compelling. You will not expect what happens once Christine finally pieces together the puzzle that is her life.
The hardcover version of this novel is 359 pages long; I zoomed through it (in eBook format, mind) in three days. I almost didn’t read it at all. Having been burned too many times buying eBooks sight unseen, it was a huge turnoff that Kobo didn’t offer a preview beyond the table of contents. Luckily, Kindle did, and before the end of it I was hooked. I was also wary because the premise sounded a lot like 50 First Dates. While Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore played this concept for its comedic worth, Watson’s interpretation is an absolute thriller, one that is worthy of being placed in the genre. I only wish I could find more books as powerful and as wonderfully written as Before I Go To Sleep.
Graphic from http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/8/9781443404068.jpg
About the Author
Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.
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