Before I Go To Sleep – S J Watson

Title – Before I Go To Sleep

Author – S J Watson

Published – 2011

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of those books that I was bound to read – winner of the 2011 CWA New Blood Dagger, best crime/thriller in the Galaxy National Book Awards, 7 weeks at the top of the Sunday Times bestsellers list and picked for the Richard & Judy spring bookclub 2012.  It also has 478 (and rising) 5 star reviews on Amazon. How could this not be a brilliant book?

The premise is relatively unusual and starts off as a real, if you’ll excuse the cliché, page turner. Every morning when Chrissie wakes up she has no memory of who she is, or where she is. She doesn’t know who the man in the bed next to her is or in fact anything that has happened to her in at least the last two decades. Her husband is practised at explaining all the relevant details she needs for the day, and there are photos from her past in the loo and messages on a whiteboard in the kitchen. She can manage for the day, or even through a nap, but after a night’s sleep it’s all back to square one.

But there is one glimmer of hope – she receives a phone call from a doctor who says he has been working with her to recapture her memory and to this end he has encouraged her to keep a journal. So each day, after his phone call,  Chrissie begins by reading the journal, and then adding to it, recording the often mundane details of each new day.  It is the journal that holds the key to the story – because without her memory she must rely on her husband to fill in the details of her life, and when reading over many days’ entries she starts to believe that there are inconsistencies.

As she reads her journal, and you discover more about Chrissie’s story and see what her husband tells her each day, you really do want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

Sadly though I didn’t think that the climax of the book lived up to the expectation raised by the rest of the story. Not only was the outcome pretty disappointing I also felt that there were too many plot holes. I certainly don’t want to give anything important away, but there were quite a few aspects of the story which felt as if they wouldn’t stand up to much scrutiny. For example – if you have no memory and you suddenly start writing a journal, heading off to your room for “naps” when you’re really writing, surely this behaviour would be odd & pretty obvious to your husband . . .  but I guess not.

Although I hadn’t come across this use of memory, or lack of it, in crime fiction it did remind me of two things – one was the film Memento, and the other was a 1980’s Equinox documentary (Equinox: Prisoner of Consciousness). One emotion common to both the film and documentary was anger, so one of my first quibbles with the book was how accepting Chrissie seemed at her situation. She was sad about what she had missed, but she never seemed to get angry or frustrated – both emotions which would seem to be pretty understandable in her situation. She just came across as quite accepting, and I didn’t actually care too much about her, I was more interested in the story than her part in it.

If you haven’t read this already the you should probably see what all the fuss was about, but I think there were better crime fiction / psychological thrillers published last year.

You can see a different perspective on the book at Leeswammes’ blog.

Score – 3/5


  1. Thanks for your link to my review. Yes, I liked it a lot. I found the plot idea very clever although I do agree the plot had holes in. But the story was so engaging for me, that I didn’t care.

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