Full of suspense and intrigue
Before I go to Sleep (by SJ Watson)
It’s rare that this reader comes across a book that can be described as simply unputdownable but with SJ Watson’s new offering, ‘Before I go to Sleep’; I found it such a book. Full of suspense and intrigue it is simply brilliant and thrilling and has the reader on the edge of their seat from page one.
Forty-year-old Christine wakes up at the beginning of the book, laying next to a man she does not recognise. Noticing that he is wearing a wedding band, at first she assumes that, as a careless and adventurous twenty-year-old, she has had a one-night stand and sheepishly reprimands herself for doing so. She carefully sneaks out to the bathroom and looks in the mirror where she is horrified to see that she looks some twenty years older than she thought. Bewilderment and horror set in until she spies a collage of photos around the mirror – pictures of her with the man in the bed. ‘Ben – your husband,’ states one. Another of her. ‘You are Christine.’
Shaken to the core she goes downstairs to be met by the strange man who sits her down gently and tells her that she was in a car accident some years ago and was brain damaged. She now suffers from amnesia, he says, and every night when she goes to bed she loses her memory all over again. Her name, her identify, her past, even the people she loves, all forgotten overnight. All she has to rely on is the testimony of the strange individual who says he is her husband and claims to love her – but how does she know she can trust him?
Christine struggles to take in the alleged truth as she bids farewell to Ben who calmly leaves for work. Then she receives a phone call on a small device she can’t believe is actually a mobile phone. The caller on the other end introduces himself as a neurologist, Dr. Nash, and says that they have a prior appointment for that day. He tells her to look in her wardrobe in a metal box where she will find a journal he has been advising her to keep where she has been recording her day’s memories. There in black and white she sees the engagement and so she meets him.
Dr. Nash tells her that she has been seeing him behind Ben’s back, that he is doing a thesis on her particular case and that he feels he can help her get her memory back. Ben, he says, is against her getting more treatment ‘because it upsets her too much.’ He advises her to records each day’s events in the journal because each night it is erased all over again.
Reading about her previous life in her diary she desperately tries to piece together the jigsaw of her existence but it’s difficult, as she cannot conjure up any recollections. Ben is patient and kind but he claims there are no pictures of their early life together, no photos of their wedding day because “there was a fire” and that they never had children, despite the fact that at times she feels she has given birth. But Dr. Nash says that this may simply be her mind playing tricks on her.
Each morning she awakes confused and erased of all her precious memories and each day so Ben must sit her down and tell her who she is all over again. Dr. Nash rings every day and they meet. He tells her that she was in a coma after her accident for months before being admitted into residential care for seven years: ‘because you were a danger to yourself and to others.’ So why has Ben been lying to her all this time and why does it say in capital letters in her journal ‘Don’t trust Ben’?
Then she discovers the unbelievable news, that together she and Ben did have a son, Adam, who died in Afghanistan. Torn by shock and grief, she confronts him. He tearfully admits that it is true and says that he didn’t tell her because he didn’t want to upset her. He shows her pictures of Adam as a baby and as a toddler and a photograph of his grave – yet try as she might, she cannot remember his funeral. She continues to write in her journal, increasingly confused and perplexed over whom to trust.
Unable to live an independent life she is at the mercy of Ben. At times she recalls happy times with her best friend Claire, but Ben has told her that she moved away to New Zealand. Who is she to call? Frantically she jots down every memory she can in her diary, hiding it away and re-reading it every day with a new outlook, all over again and gently testing the waters with her husband to see if he will lie to her again.
Then a memory comes back to her, backed up by further evidence – Ben actually left her while she was in residential care all those years ago. Ben divorced her and ‘it was something to do with Claire.’
Overwhelmed by this discovery she plucks up with the courage to phone her old friend and arranges to meet. It is an emotionally charged reunion in which old truths are exchanged and leads to the climax of this book, which is nail-biting and leads to yet another secret and shock about Christine herself. It also introduces the reader to another character who is central to the core of the tale.
And this is not the end of the story. Apparently the sequel to this book has yet to come.
I’ll be first in the queue to read it.
Issue dated: 22 June 2012
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