Review: “Before I Go to Sleep” by S. J. Watson [2011]

S. J. Watson’s debut novel is a pretty terrific and creepy read. Before I Go to Sleep is narrated by a woman named Christine who, as we discover at the same time pace as Christine, has a unique form of amnesia. Ever since an accident more than two decades earlier, Christine cannot form new long term memories but has the ability to retain short term memories for the day. When she goes to sleep, every memory that has been made during the day is lost again.

Every morning Christine wakes up not knowing who or where she is or even which moment in time she is in. She could wake up thinking she is an eighteen year old or a newlywed. It could be any point in time leading up to the day of the accident. Every morning, Christine’s husband Ben needs to remind her of who and where she is and go through what has happened. The bathroom wall is covered with various photographs of their life together:

Photographs. Taped to the wall, to the mirror itself. Pictures, interspersed with yellow pieces of gummed paper, felt-tip notes, damp and curling. I choose one at random. Christine, it says, and an arrow points to a photograph of me – this new me, this old me – in which I am sitting on a bench on a quayside, next to a man. The name seems familiar, but only distantly so, as if I am having to make an effort to believe that it is mine. In the photograph we are both smiling at the camera, holding hands. He is handsome, attractive, and when I look closely I can see that it is the same man I slept with, the one I left in the bed. The word Ben is written beneath it, and next to it Your husband. – p. 13

When Ben leaves for work that morning, Christine gets a phone call from a Dr. Nash who claims to be a neurologist that she has been secretly seeing while Ben is at work. Initially suspicious and skeptical, Dr. Nash tells Christine to look in her diary which she can find in her bag and she will see that she has written in their appointment. Christine agrees to meet up with Dr. Nash and during their meeting, he gives her her diary that Christine has been writing in for the past few months in order to help her remember. When she opens to the first page, Christine sees that she has written DON’T TRUST BEN.

This book is quite the thriller. Even though it has a small cast of characters made up largely of Dr. Nash, Ben and Christine, I never knew how the story would turn out right until the very end. A few of my suspicions were right but Watson makes you work for it and doubt your guesses numerous times beforehand. I have to say, however, that the ending does make you want to go back and re-read the book and it will probably be even more disturbing the second time around.


  1. I have a copy of this book but haven’t read it yet. I’m really looking forward to it – I don’t think I’ve seen a negative review yet!

    1. I haven’t seen all that many reviews of it but the ones I’ve seen were all positively glowing. I had to wait awhile for my copy!

  2. Wow, this sounds great! I love psychological thrillers! And, interestingly enough, it made me think a little of The Victorian Chaise Longue which i see you’re reading from your sidebar. It’s not the thriller in the same sense this one is (i.e. no husband/villian to doubt) other than her own memory and what’s happening to her.

    I want to read the one you’ve reviewed now, thanks!

    1. It’s a little similar to Victorian Chaise. It’s all about the power of the mind. Memory is a powerful thing.

      I hope you’ll enjoy it too! 🙂

  3. This sounds kind of like the Christopher Nolan film Memento! I generally have a good memory, I think, and yet that is one movie where I never remember the twists! 😉

    1. I’ve yet to see Memento, believe it or not! My memory is pretty shocking though. I always forget what I’m meant to be doing!

    1. LOL, amnesia lit. They’re the best sort, aren’t they? I used to write heaps of amnesia/psycho/twisted lit in creative writing. What other good amnesia lit would you recommend?

      1. There’s so much amnesia lit 😀 There’s a good anthology by Lethem, The Housekeeper & the Professor by Ogawa, Man Walks into a Room by Krauss (one of my favorites!), The Raw Shark Texts (if you’re very into postmodernism), most of Philip K. Dick’s stories (Total Recall etc), Return of the Soldier, and many more 🙂

  4. Reminds me of 50 First Dates (the movie) except this book is not funny.

    I read one other review of this one and the blogger mentioned a shocking ending. I must say, I am sort of curious as to what the shocker is.

    1. I didn’t find the ending so shocking but it does make the entire book you’ve just read all the more disturbing. You have to read it now!

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