Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson — 368 pgs

For Christine, each morning is a nightmare. As she awakens, she is unsure where she is, who the man lying beside her is, and isn’t even sure of her own name. Due to a traumatic brain injury, Christine has the ability to make new memories over the course of a day but once she goes to sleep for the night, those memories are erased like the tide flowing up over the sand. One morning, upon reading the journal that she uses to kick-start her memory, she discovers a message written in her own hand. The message tells her that she cannot trust her husband, Ben. But why would Christine not be able to trust the kind and patient man who takes such pains to care for her? When Christine finally begins to write down the details of her daily life and her learned past, some strange and disturbing facts begin to emerge and her life becomes not only confusing to her, but terrifying. In this spellbinding novel of an amnesiac’s struggle to comprehend her life and the danger that surrounds her, author S. J. Watson builds the crescendo of unpredictability to feverish proportions and gently lures her readers in clue by clue, until finally the whole horrifying puzzle is complete and Christine’s life and circumstances are unveiled for all to see.

This was the November choice for the Books, Babes, and Bordeaux book club, and it’s a book that I picked for us because I had heard so many interesting things about it. Like What Alice Forgot and Turn of Mind, this book also dealt with a woman who was struggling with her memory, and like the other books, it was suspenseful. But for some reason, this book wasn’t as spine tingling as I would have hoped it would be. This may be because I listened to it on audio, and for some reason the narrator, Orlagh Cassidy, had some odd ways of speaking that took some of the urgency out of the tale. Though she was a great narrator, she never really got jazzed up or became frantic in her reading, which is something I would have expected due to the storie’s strange revelations and dire nature.

Overall, this is a story that had me thinking deeply not only about memory and how it affects our everyday lives, but specifically about the situation that the characters found themselves in. The frustration and uncertainty of never knowing who or where you were, the anguish of realizing that you’ve been mentally running grooves in the same track day after day for years, and the incredible loneliness that must accompany this kind of life must have been unbearable. I can’t imagine a life where even your family and friends are strangers and cause you to be frightened and suspicious and provoke fear from you every time you encounter them. There was a great interplay between Christine’s desire for connection and her fear of the unknown threaded throughout this narrative. Over the course of the book, the reader becomes privy to more and more of the secrets that everyone is keeping from her, while Christine seems to endlessly forget all her progress, day after day.

A few of the plot points toward the end of the book did end up stretching credulity for me a bit, but since I was very curious about what would eventually happen with Christine, I allowed myself to be swept away into the story and didn’t spend a lot of time questioning the things that I knew were a little far-fetched. As far as memory loss stories go, this wasn’t the best but it did leave me anticipating the eventual outcome and endlessly pondering Christine’s situation. Even now, I’m still thinking about the ramifications of this type of problem, and specifically, I’m wondering what happens after the final chapter. It was a different sort of suspense book, and one that I enjoyed, but I doubt it will be on any “best of” lists in the future.

If you’re the type of reader who enjoys suspense/thrillers with a little bit of an unpredictable edge to them, I would recommend this book to you but I would have to assert that the print version is probably better than the audio, and wish that I had read the book instead of listening to it. While I liked the book and thought it was a pretty solid read, I still maintain that if you want a great story that deals with some of the same elements and that will leave you twisting in your seat, head right out and pick up Turn of Mind.

33 comments:

Jenny said...

I really enjoyed this book, but I agree it wasn't as spine tingling or thrilling as I expected either. I wasn't surprised by the ending so I felt slightly let down. But overall I thought it was a fun read.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Oh you're always reading books I want to read! I wish I could read these long books as fast as you! So much out there good waiting to be read...

Alison's Book Marks said...

I'm sorry the audio didn't bring the fear factor to this suspenseful book. I haven't read it yet, but adding it to my TBR list (print version!)

Harvee said...

Turn of Mind is on my list! Thanks for the tip!

Wall-to-wall books said...

This one has caught my eye before. But this is the first review I have read of it. Looks good to me.
I don't really care much about the "predictability" of books or having a surprise ending, I just have to like them!
Actually I would rather have a predictable ending than a non-ending, or one that I hate!
Good review!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This is on the to be read shelf. Thanks for the review ;)

Ti said...

The premise of this book reminds me of 50 First Dates, that movie with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Of course, that's a comedy and this is not but every time I read a review of this book I think of that movie.

It doesn't sound like my thing, but I often think that losing your memory would be just the about the worst thing to happen. Not remembering your loved ones would be impossible to live with.

bermudaonion said...

I do like this type of book and can't help but wonder if you would have enjoyed it more in print. How did the other "Babes" feel about it?

Zibilee said...

Kathy,
We actually discuss it this coming Monday, so I will have to let you know. I do think I would have enjoyed it more in print, but overall, it was a good read. It did make me think a lot.

Kailana said...

I have been hearing a lot about this book for a while, but I haven't got a chance to read it yet. One of these days!

Anita said...

I read your review though I' still reading the book. I have a lot of questions but am enjoying the book. See you soon. Great review and you didnt give away a thing .

Amy said...

This is the kind of book that I like to get caught up in and often I don't question some of the more incredulous things that happen. I thought this book would be very spine-tingling and chilling but I've read several reviews that say the story is suspemseful but doesn't make your hair stand on end. Still, I want to read it (good thing since it's sitting on my shelf waiting for me!) I like the fact that you were still thinking about the book after you finished with it. It may not be the best of its genre but at least it gets your attention! I'm sure it will get mine!
A terrific review, Heather!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I thought this was a decent thriller, but not a great one. I thought it stretched things a bit, and the end was just a little too tied up for my tastes. I did not have an issue with the narrator so much though. I think I would have had the same issues in print too.

Brooke said...

This one's been on my TBR list for a while and I do think I'll enjoy it - especially since you've warned me about all-thins-incredulous and I'll be prepared to suspend belief quite a bit. Thanks for the Turn of Mind rec!

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

my daughter gave me a copy of this to read but then told me the whole plot - ending and all. . .the ending did sound a bit far-fetched but the concept of the book sounds intriguing

Diane said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Great review! Hugs and have a great New Year!!! :O)

Jenners said...

I agree with you .. it was good to a point and then it kind of started falling apart. You just had to give yourself over to it and go for the ride. I just wish he had committed to a specific ending a bit more. Still, it was better than your average thriller.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Very good to note to read versus listen to this one. It frustrates me when the narrator doesn't quite relay the same urgency you know that the story has. That was one of the parts I found intriguing in NY at BEA when I attended the Audiobook and Author Tea; hearing Karin Slaughter and Brad Meltzer discuss their dissatisfaction with earlier narrators for their previous works was interesting. I wonder if S.J. Watson would feel the same in this sense, too.

I'll read this instead of listening, thanks for the tip, Heather!

Steph said...

It sounds like you've been hitting some dud audiobooks lately. I tend to stick to the written word rather than books-on-tape, and I do have an ebook version of this one so hopefully I'll have better luck with it. Like you, I really like books that take a look at how memory affects us, so I'm hoping I do like this one! I am always looking for a good thriller!

mominsanity said...

I agree that you need to suspend disbelief a little bit at the end in order for it all to work out but I have to say that in general, I thought that it was a magnificent book. I didn't listen to the audiobook version though - I read the book. I find that if you get a bummer of a reader in an audiobook, that ruins everything, even if the book is fantastic in and of itself.

Beth F said...

Who was the narrator for this? I wonder if that was a problem for you.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I really want to read the print version. I don't do well with audiobooks. Great review!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I read another review this morning that also recommending reading this one rather than listening...I've added the printed version to my WishList :) Sounds a little like the old movie Gaslight...did you ever see it?

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

As you know, I read it in print and I really enjoyed it. I wouldn't consider it a thriller as much as I was expecting it to be, but I definitely couldn't put it down. I'm looking forward to discussing it more with you and the rest of the ladies next week!

Trisha said...

Every review I read of this one makes me want it more!

Marg said...

I have seen a lot of really good things about this book. I have had it out of the library, or maybe I still do. I am not really sure!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I really liked WHAT ALICE FORGOT, but I think this one might be too scary for me (that word, thriller, sends shivers up and down my spine!).

You've made a good point, that some books are better in print than in audio; I'll keep this advice in mind if I get asked about BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP.

Thanks for your review, Heather -- I wonder what the rest of the group will have to say about it!

Geosi said...

This book is for me. I love books with suspence and would have to look out for this. Thanks.

Darlene said...

I really enjoyed this one. It was a different type of suspense and mostly it really kept you wondering what was going on and if she'd ever be able to figure things out. I think it would be awful to have this type of memory loss. To get up each morning and not know anything about yourself or those around you - very scary indeed.

Bellezza said...

This wasn't deep and philosophical, but as far as psychological thrillers go, it was great wasn't it?! It had me thinking about memory, as well, along with our life choices. I had a teaching assistant in my classroom one year who always said, "Your life is a direct result of the choices you have made." So true, and applicable to our poor heroine here.

TheBookGirl said...

I'm afraid that anything similar to Turn of Mind would pale in comparison, I loved that one so much.

Lisa said...

Thanks for a different take on this one. I had been really thinking I should add it to the wish list but now I think I'll take your recommendation and go with Turn of Mind!

Lenore Appelhans said...

I enjoyed this one! The twist was fun.

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