I am not the person I thought I was when I woke this morning. – Christine Lucas
Christine Lucas is having more than some existential “Who am I?” moment when she says she’s not the person she thought she was when she woke up. She honestly doesn’t remember the majority of her life.
Severe head trauma has left Christine with both anterograde amnesia, in which the sufferer can’t form new memories, and retrograde amnesia, in which the sufferer can’t remember events from the past. She literally wakes up each day as a new person, a blank slate, having to discover over and over again who she is and what happened to her.
As disturbing as that is in and of itself, once Christine starts keeping a journal of her daily activities and discoveries at the behest of her doctor she begins to realize something even more disturbing; she’s not getting the same story consistently from those around her… including her husband.
Sometimes the variations on detail are subtle, other times she’s told outright lies. With a building sense of dread Christine begins to wonder if anything she’s been told has been true, even the version of events about the accident that caused her condition to being with. Now, not only can’t Christine trust herself, she’s not sure she can trust anyone else either.
The premise that debut author S. J. Watson has established in Before I Go To Sleep is an intense one, no doubt. Yet it never quite got off the ground for me. The bulk of the story is told in the form of Christine’s journal entries to herself, and while they start off interesting as Christine struggles to reacquaint herself with her life anew each day they quickly become repetitive. I realize that’s partly the idea of presenting things that way, to drive home that Christine is living this sort of Groundhog Day existence over and over, but after a certain point it’s enough. We get it. Making matters even more “meh” was an ending that felt out of line with the tone of the rest of the book. It isn’t a bad ending per se, mind you, just one that seemed very helter-skelter compared to the painstakingly laid-out events that lead up to it.
I freely admit I am a bit of an outlier on this one, as most people I know who’ve read Before I Go To Sleep have been quite pleased with the experience. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book at all, rather more that I was disappointed that what I thought could have been a truly great premise failed to live up to its full potential. Nevertheless, even having noted my reservations about the book it is still undeniable that S.J. Watson is a very skilled writer, and the book does pose some very interesting philosophical questions about how we define ourselves and the role memories play in that.
So, if you think the premise sounds interesting don’t let my tepid response put you off. Pick it up and give a shot for yourself, then come back and let me know what you thought. And if you’ve already read it and loved it, please feel free to share your thoughts on the book as well. — EAW
Before I Go to Sleep is available from Harper (ISBN: 978-0062060556).
– Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson –
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