“What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget”

Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.

There is a lot of love out there for this novel. Despite the hype though, given the type of psychological thriller that it is, it was always going to be a book I’d read anyway.

Christine wakes every morning to a man and house she can’t remember. After a horrific car crash she has severe amnesia, but she is unable to make new memories too; as she sleeps her brain wipes her experiences from that day clear away.  Each morning she has to find herself again – her memory stops in her twenties, but she is now 47.  She meets her long-suffering husband Ben who says he still loves her anew, and has to be told about her life yet again, piecing together enough to get her through the day.

Christine is, unknown to Ben who would be against it, secretly seeing a doctor who thinks he can help her with her memory loss. Dr Nash asks her to keep a secret journal, and rings her each day to tell her about the book’s existence. Thus Christine begins to piece together bits of her life that she can’t remember and Ben doesn’t seem to want to tell her about – which is understandable as he has to do this every day after all. Doing this does start memory fragments appearing now and then, they raise so many questions, and Christine gradually starts to uncover the nasty truth about what really happened to her …

That’s enough of the plot, except to say that it kept me guessing for ages, and the sudden realisation of what was going to happen in the end sent a cold chill through me!  It kept me reading compulsively; if I’d been able to, I would have read it through in one session, but normal life intervened, but I was itching all that time to finish the book.

If I had one criticism, it is that Christine’s journal entries are over-detailed. She wouldn’t have had enough time to read the ever-expanding book every day and to add to it in the time available.  The gradual reveal through her journal entries was brilliantly handled though and as each new fact is uncovered, it makes the reader re-evaluate what they thought they knew – we’re with Christine in this voyage of discovery.  There is a certain amount of reiteration, especially in the first half of the book, but like in the film Groundhog Day, (the only similarity!), each day is actually not quite the same as the one before.

There are no author photos on the sleeve of this book, and the initials also give nothing away. I was really surprised to find that SJ is a bloke, as most of the psychological thrillers I’ve read have been by women; he captures Christine’s daily panic and increasing furtiveness really well. Christine’s waking up each morning feeling twenty-something and being confronted with an older body in the mirror makes us sympathize with her instantly (don’t we all secretly believe we’re still that young!).

I really enjoyed this gripping psychological thriller, and it will be fascinating to see what Ridley Scott makes of it – he’s bought the film rights.  (9/10)

For more takes on this book, see Savidge Reads and The Book Whisperer.

BTW: The quote at the top comes from the Oscar-winning song The Way We Were sung by Barbra Streisand, written by Allan and Marilyn Bergman.

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I bought this book.
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Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.  Pub in hardback by Doubleday, 366 pages.


6 thoughts on ““What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget”

  1. This really is flavour of the moment isn’t it? For once I am on trend as I picked up a copy from the library on Saturday but I think that I had better get a move on reading it as with the number of blog reviews around, there will probably be an impressive request list building up for it which means no renewals!
    The quote from The Way We Were really takes me back – my friend and I went to see it about three times at the cinema (quite a lot on student money) when we were both suffering the pangs of unrequited love and thoroughly enjoyed sniffling over it!

    • I hope you enjoy it Liz. The Way We Were was never my kind of movie. At that age, I wanted action and comedy, but reading this book did make the song rattle around in my head, hence the quote.

  2. This book has had an amazing reception in the blogging world and the hype is getting to me. I was also surprised when Polly told me that SJ Bolton is a man as I just assumed he would be a woman (why?) I think I must get my mitts on this soon!

    • It was very good. Sometimes you just have to give in and go with the flow, but generally I’m against the hype, preferring to wait until it calms down a little (Time to read McEwan’s ‘Solar’ then?)

  3. I’ve been seeing so many good reviews of this lately that I’m certainly tempted to pick this up and give it a try! The premise is really appealing to me, but like you, I do tend to avoid books with too much hype. That said, when that hype is coming from much-trusted book bloggers like yourself, it seems more than likely that the hype might be justified!

    • Thanks Steph. If you’re a fan of this kind of book, then it could be for you. It’s not perfect, but is a really original debut.

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