Before I Go To Sleep
I read Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson over a matter of hours last night. I was sold on it by its intriguing premise. The idea of inexplicably losing massively important memories and the impact of that is something I've been pondering a lot lately. It is a psychological thriller starring a protagonist with a broken psyche. In some respects this resembles Julie Myerson's Then, also about a woman who can't remember her past, but whilst that story takes place in a post apocalyptic landscape, this story takes place as a contemporary "real world" novel.
Christine Lucas has both retrograde and anterograde amnesia, she doesn't remember most of her life but on a day to day basis will remember what is happening until she goes to sleep,when her memories will be wiped clean again and she will start from the beginning. This is, for those of you who've not seen it, precisely what happens to Lucy Whitmore in the film 50 First Dates. Unlike Lucy, who in the whimsical comedy goes to eat waffles in a pretty Hawaiian cafe each day before painting a delightful mural to the strains of the Beach Boys 'Wouldn't It Be Nice', Christine rather normally wakes up in Crouch End, and stares into the bathroom mirror at a face which is hers, yet middle aged.
Husband Ben, is her caretaker and explains everything on a daily basis before leaving for work. On the day we meet Christine, she gets a phonecall from Dr Nash - a doctor who has been treating her without Ben's knowledge for some time. He explains she is now keeping a journal to help her remember and tells her where she hides it. When she opens it, on the front page is written : DON'T TRUST BEN.
And so it begins, as we struggle alongside Christine to patch together her life story and remember the event which so badly injured her. Watson avoids making Before I Go To Sleep too much of an irritating prose Groundhog Day by using Christine's journal primarily to tell the story, she reads her journal daily, recaps herself, and then continues it. Doing this is a clever means of sidestepping what could have been a massive pitfall for a novel such as this.
It's a debut novel, and a good one, though I wonder how much inspiration was taken not merely from 50 First Dates but the 2000 Christopher Nolan film 'Memento' in which an anterograde amnesiac tries to remember what happened to his wife. It differs enough from each film being more grounded in the lives of ordinary people in an extraordinary circumstance and is a lot more realistic about the human outcomes of this kind of event. Well until the end I guess, which in a way, though a good twist is a bit of a shambles in terms of believability. I liked this book, I thought it was clever, but I didn't think it was amazing. 7/10