Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I go to Sleep book cover Zzzzzzzzzzz – 2 Stars

Before I Go to Sleep consistently threatened to put me in a coma. This book was like groundhog day – without the humour and without Bill Murray. The book received 2 stars based on the fact that this was a debut novel, it was in fact very well written and I read it all the way to the end. Unfortunately, I was quite bored and often wished I was the main character and would awake the next morning and forget I was reading the book.

Plot Summary

The plot revolves around a character who suffers from short term amnesia. The result being she is unable to form new memories while forgetting much of her past life. Once she sleeps and awakens the next morning, she forgets what happened the previous day, previous month and previous decades. In an effort to build a narrative of her life, she begins to write a journal detailing the day, her relationship with her husband, her previous life and the events that led to her current condition. In order to remember this book, she is daily contacted, in secret, by a doctor who tells her where to find the book. Given that she can only rely on what she had previously written, she is an unreliable narrator. Unfortunately for her, not everything is as it seems and she is left to wondering if she can trust herself or anyone around her.

My Take

To be honest, the premise is quite good. I loved the idea. It was like a written version of Memento — only less awesome. Although I was taken by the premise, the first 2/3 of the book became painfully repetitive and began to stretch believability. While I like the idea of an amnesiac trying to secretly piece her life back together, I just could not believe her methods would be successful or secret.

Almost from the beginning, I assumed the book would have one of two endings. *sighs* Unfortunately, I was right and I had a very hard time accepting what had happened. The setup of the story did not make it believable to me. Sure, the narrator was unreliable but I think it was used as a gimmick to stretch believability. Maybe I am being unduly harsh. I recently gave Gone Girl and Rebecca 5 star ratings and they both employed unreliable narrators. To me, the difference in these books is that the unreliable nature of the narration was not used to explain away plot weakness but was instead used to highlight the nature of the characters. In this book, I did not feel this plot device was handled well.

That said, this book has many accolades. I can appreciate how some readers will find this to be thrilling and enchanting. It was well written and the plot was decent. It had a nice twisty ending and it (attempted) to explain itself in the end. Some readers will take my side and see this book as one trick pony. I found the trick to be transparent and none too exciting.

Final Thoughts

I am not trying to scare anyone away from reading this. I don’t think it is rubbish but was simply not to my liking. If the things I listed would also bother you, you might not enjoy it. If you don’t care about characterization and simply want to go for a ride, you might enjoy the trip. I generally have a high tolerance for boring books but without great characterization, I could barely hang on. Too bad.

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Tim Written by:

Tim is a lawyer, sports fan, parent, husband and book lover. He runs his own legal practice and is the founder of The Literary Lawyer book blog and a contributing writer for Tim loves to share his love of reading by providing reviews to entertain as well as provide information to help you make an informed reading decision.