Before I begin this review proper, I feel I should give something of a fair warning to those of you who haven’t yet succumbed to the puzzley delights of S.J. Watson’s debut novel Before I Go To Sleep. While I’ll do my best to keep major spoilers to a minimum, the twisty-turny nature of the plot means it’s impossible to avoid them completely, without writing anything at all – which has never been this reviewer’s major strength at the best of times.
For those of you still with me, Before I Go To Sleep is something of a literary enigma. The plot tells the story of the amnesiac Christine Lucas, whose rare symptoms, triggered by a traumatic past incident, rob her of her memories every time she goes to sleep. Forced to write her thoughts daily in a secret journal, she gradually comes to suspect that everything in her fractured world is not as it seems, and that those closest to her are harbouring a miscellany of dark secrets.
The writing is fast paced, unfolding like a puzzle box to add layers of meaning to each and every action of the characters. The paranoia inducing atmosphere of the novel also gives it a very claustrophobic feel. We remain with Christine, her limited domestic world and her often skewed viewpoints throughout the novel, without the action ever shifting to other characters or settings, giving it the feel of a kitchen sink Hitchcock.
Such a decision is a bold move, and due to the novel’s premise it often results in the reader being given a blank canvas to try to relate to. Consequently, there are moments it is difficult to feel anything for the protagonist, and although she’s understandably frustrated, there are too many scenes where Christine does little more than complain that everyone is lying to her. However, instead of asking the necessary questions of her suspects, she engages in a morally dubious game of bluff and double bluff, forcing them to relive painful memories in order to allow her to act as a human polygraph.
Such ethical conundrums are casually skated over come the slightly predictable denouement, in which Watson lays his cards on the table, and somehow manages to come up trumps. In spite of this, however, Before I Go To Sleep remains a thrillingly taut debut which will have the reader turning pages late into the night.