On the subject of recommended reads, one of my most recent has been S J Watson's Before I Go To Sleep. I happened to mention this to a friend on the way out of work the other day, only for someone else in the lift to indicate this as a recent read of theirs too. Hence the reason I thought I’d put together a couple of thoughts on the novel for the benefit of the blog.
The book is an interesting one for a number of reasons. I’ve alluded to it as the Memento of the book world in the title to this entry and, certainly, this is something which seems to be referred to in a couple of the reviews I’ve seen to date. It’s not hard to see why, given the novel deals with the subject of an amnesiac whose brain “resets” itself each night when the main protagonist is asleep.
The plot is thriller phrased as self-discovery and exploration of the past. To say much more concerning it, save to note that Christine becomes aware that her husband is keeping information from her, would spoil the suspense element and so I’ll leave this to interested parties to pursue.
The narrative device itself, couched in the terms of Christine’s diary, drafted from day to day, works well and the language is clear and concise. This leaves the reader free to follow the plot developments and keeps the overall momentum going whilst in the narrator’s company. Whilst I did in fact second guess one element of the plot prior to the novel’s conclusion, it didn’t detract in any way from my enjoyment overall.
The idea of the amnesiac narrator is a novel one (no pun intended) and one partially inspired by real life memoirs, although the events of the book are purely fictitious. From recollection, I can recall seeing the issue of memory explored recently in a similar guise in Cat Patrick's YA contribution Forgotten but that as much from the perspective of teen romance as the suspense element. Too, the concept is explored here from the point of view that the narrator remembers aspects of their future but has no recollection of the past - hence another departure between the two. (Yes, suspend and leave your disbelief at the door if you’re intending to embark on this one as your next intended read.)
For me, it would also be remiss not to mention Holly Black’s Curse Workers Trilogy, whose Black Heart I’m anticipating the arrival of later this year. If you like the sound of a noir style fantasy and haven’t sampled any of Black’s prior work to date, you might want to start with White Cat and play catch up. Here, Cassel is forced to question his own memory when he finds himself sleepwalking and plagued by dreams about the eponymous feline in the title. As you read further, you discover the con is definitely on!
Returning to S J Watson’s work, the premise behind the plot has resulted in the sale of the novel in over 30 languages worldwide and sale of the rights for the film to Ridley Scott’s production company, in addition to promotion via Richard and Judy’s Book Club. It has also won accolades such as Best Debut Novel within crime writing circles. Combine that with the “rags to riches” element of a first novel completed as a result of Faber’s first ever Novel Writing course which happened to result in introduction of the author to a literary agent on the final night and this also makes for an interesting author back story, particularly in light of its overall commercial success.
Clear prose and lack of distraction aside, it’s also easy to step into the character’s shoes as a result of the first person perspective. The reference to memoirs by Watson adds further reality to the premise, addition of the crime element and further fictitious aspects aside.