Summer Reading Review + Giveaway: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

18 Jul

One of the most anticipated thrillers of the summer, S.J. Watson’s debut novel Before I Go to Sleep is probably every aspiring writer’s dream scenario. Watson’s novel is the result of his entry in the first Faber Academy Writing a Novel course, a rigorous and selective program that covers all aspects of the novel-writing process. But as anyone who’s ever tried and failed to write a novel can tell you, the talent it takes to actually complete and polish a book can’t be cultivated by enrolling in a course, no matter how intensive it is. The talent has to be there from the beginning, and Watson’s debut work is proof enough of that. Here’s the summary from Watson’s book site:

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.

But it’s the phone call from a Dr. Nash, a neurologist who claims to be working with Christine without her husband’s knowledge, that directs her to her journal, hidden in the back of her closet. For the past few weeks, Christine has been recording her daily activities—tearful mornings with Ben, sessions with Dr. Nash, flashes of scenes from her former life—and rereading past entries, relearning the facts of her life as retold by the husband she is completely dependent upon. As the entries build up, Christine asks many questions. What was life like before the accident? Why did she and Ben never have a child? What has happened to Christine’s best friend? And what exactly was the horrific accident that caused such a profound loss of memory?

Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more un-believable it seems.

This is pretty universally described as a thriller, but man, does the suspense lay kind of low compared to most other traditional thrillers. The narrative point of view is kind of complicated, but the construction of the novel is such that for most of the first half of the book, we are reading the journal Christine has been keeping for just a few weeks at the same time she herself is reading it on a morning after she’s woken up, no knowing who she is and who her husband is. It sounds complicated, but Watson manages to keep it very simple, and I never struggled at all with understanding what was happening and when, and how much Christine knew and didn’t know day-to-day. The ability to keep everything straight – all the details and the movement through her memory – and consistent above all is impressive and I’d love to see the outlines it must have taken to write this novel.

Christine as a narrator – one where the reader has the benefit of knowing slightly more than she does and having the ability to remember what we’ve just read and therefore having the foresight to see bad things coming – was a bit hard to relate to. I can’t begin to understand what life must be like in that kind of situation, and while I wanted to empathize with her from the beginning, I found myself frustrated when she was slow on the uptake. Particularly at the end of the book, I had an inkling of what was going to happen and what the twist was going to be, and the fact that she didn’t see it coming at all…that was slightly irritating. At the same time though, I thought that this must just be how she lives all the time – slow to understand and frustrating to everyone else around her who have to wait until she catches up. I’m making it sound like she’s stupid, but she’s not. Having to re-learn who you are and what’s happened to you in the last 20 years, as well as just the last few weeks when all the events of the book begin to unravel, has got to be more frustrating than anything else.

Since I mentioned the ending already, and because it’s a mystery, I obviously won’t give anything away. But as I said, I did see the ending coming to a certain extent. But I certainly didn’t know how it was all going to play out, and given a narrator that is handicapped in such a way as Christine was, the variables were many.

This is a fantastic summer novel for those of you that like your beach reading with some mystery and intrigue. Highly recommended, which is lucky for you because I have a copy for giveaway. (I meant to post this last week to coincide with my bloggoversary but life and then technology got in the way).

Thanks to Harper, I’ve got an extra pre-release galley copy of Before I Go to Sleep. All you need to do is leave a comment and make sure the email you provide is accurate so I can get in touch with you if you win. For an extra entry, tweet the giveaway, and make sure you use my Twitter handle – @homebtwnpages – so I can see your tweet.  And if you left a comment on my Summer Reading post, you’ll be automatically entered once. If you’d like to comment again and also tweet it, you’ll get two more!

I’ll announce the winner of this giveaway next Monday, July 25th! Good luck :) .

(Also, I’ll be announcing the winner of State of Wonder this evening at 8pm EDT, so you’ve still got time to enter!)


10 Responses to “Summer Reading Review + Giveaway: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson”

  1. Lori L July 18, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Before I Go To Sleep sounds very interesting! I’d love to win!

  2. Kathy July 18, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I also just finished reading and reviewing this novel. I am clearly a little denser as I was almost done before I put this mystery together. I thought the novel construction and the author’s need to retell Christine’s story each day was quite a challenge – one I though he did brilliantly!
    Nice review

  3. Bree July 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Sounds interesting. Count me in.

  4. Angie July 18, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Please consider me officially intrigued (and entered)!

  5. Kerry July 19, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Ok, all of a sudden, I am seeing this book everywhere. Clearly, I have to read it now. That’s just how it works, right?

  6. Mandy July 19, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Would love to read this! Thanks!

  7. Jane July 25, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    This looks fascinating! My e-mail is janek921 at yahoo dot com.

  8. Liberty July 25, 2011 at 7:43 am #

    Ooooooo – WANT. If I get it, I will love it and pet it and call it George. velocireader(at)gmail(dot)com


  1. WINNER: State of Wonder by Anne Patchett « a home between pages - July 18, 2011

    […] to everyone who entered! Remember, you’ve still got plenty of time to enter the other two giveaways currently still […]

  2. WINNER: Sugar in My Bowl by Erica Jong « a home between pages - July 20, 2011

    […] to everyone who entered! You’ve still got lots of time to enter my other giveaway for Before I Go To Sleep by SJ […]

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