Friday, December 30, 2011

What if your memory fails you every day?

Imagine, if you will, waking up every morning with absolutely no recollection at all of the past several years. Imagine seeing a stranger next to you in bed only to find out that he's your husband. Imagine looking yourself at the mirror and getting confused with all the age lines that you see in your face, for you remember being only in your 20s when you went to bed. In S. J. Watson's debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, these are exactly what happen to Christine Lucas the moment she first opens her eyes in the morning.

Christine has amnesia. She can't recall the details of what happened to her for the past several years. She's had this condition for more than 20 years, a condition brought about by an accident, which her husband Ben tells her.

So you might be thinking that Christine's husband is a dearie, right? Explaining to Christine every day for the past 20 years who he is and telling her about her amnesia. It must be nerve wracking to be in Christine's shoes. I'd seriously consider killing myself if I were in my shoes. Thankfully, she discovers that she has a journal, one that she's writing on every day recently. The journal also tells her one important thing. Written on the first page of it is this sentence:

Don't trust Ben.

It's chilling reading that sentence. Just 3 words. Three words that somehow turn the novel into a very engaging one. Yes, Before I Go to Sleep is a thriller. And what's more interesting is, you find yourself really curious as to how Christine can get herself out of the situation she's in.
Something's definitely not right with the things Ben keeps telling her. Ben mentioned that they didn't have kids, that her accident caused her amnesia, that she was a lowly clerk at some office. But Christine has occasional flashes of memory: a son named Adam, a best friend, an affair, a sexual assault.

Watson's novel is one of the most entertaining novels I've read in years. I found it refreshing that the novel just focused in on a few characters, allowing him the leverage of wonderful character development. Everyone would love Christine and be distrustful of Ben. Although, some readers would definitely be put off by the apparent black-and-white attributes of the characters.

But what I found even more compelling is how Watson throws something to the reader from the left field. Her husband may not even be the person he's telling himself to be. Christine finds out that she's been seeing a medical specialist clandestinely every day, meeting the doctor as soon as Ben leaves home for work. Watson slowly unravels the reasons for these. It's a nail-biting unraveling though. Watson definitely teases the reader's patience.

Before I Go to Sleep is one novel that feeds on paranoia. I think that Watson has entered the realm of genre fiction with a bang. Let's just hope that his next novel is just as rewarding as this one.

Read this book if:
  1. You've always been afraid of losing your memory.
  2. You love the movie "Memento".
  3. You keep a journal.

3 comments:

martine said...

intriguing, will seek it out
thanks for sharing
martine

Jack said...

Sounds interesting. Is this FemJep, or straight suspense? With amnesia, do you not have memories back to the point when you got it, twenty-some years ago in this case, and then nothing before that? This sounds very close to a documentary that PBS did a few years back about a man in England who lost his short-term memory (like Drew Barrymore in Fifty First Dates). He had to live in an institution because he couldn't remember things like whether to cross the street on red or green, and he kept a detailed journal to replace that minute to minute recollection of details, but he couldn't trust the journal. He would wake up and record the time, then do his bathroom routine, have breakfast, then read his journal entry from an hour before, and swear someone else was putting entries in it. He never claimed it was a conspiracy, just that he wished people would leave his journal alone. It was truly unnerving.

Nonetheless, I routinely accept that elves, dwarves, orcs, and trolls vie for control of a medieval earth, and that civilizations from space visit earth, all for the sake of enjoying a good story. These little deviations from real events won't be deal breakers for what sounds like a pulse-pounding read. Thanks for the tip!

Peter S. said...

@Martine: You're welcome!

@Jack: There were also periods in this novel wherein Christine thought that somebody else might be writing on her journal!