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Before I go to sleep…. (I must remember!)

I was born tomorrow

Today I live

Yesterday killed me

Parviz Owsia

My first review of the year is Before I go to Sleep. I decided to read this book because of its frequent mention on book blogging community. I did not read the reviews in details but the blurb sounds fascinating…. and the cover, such beautiful cover!

Stories about main character memory loss, amnesia are a common theme in many movies and books. Off my head I can ramble off: Bourne Identity, 50 first dates played by Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, and one I wanted to watch, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Inception, played by Jim Carey and Kate Winslet.

What is about memory loss that fascinates us?

Because memories define us. It provides us with an anchor, so that everyday we wakes up and know who we are, what we are supposed to do. It is our identity and it helps us makes sense of the world.

Once you lose it, everything is up in the air, it all becomes fluid, the truth is made up in a fly and if there is an instinct you believe which contradicts with what you see everyday, what would you trust? Your instinct or your sight?

Note: If you want to read the book, I suggest you avoid reading my reviews. Although it doesn’t contain spoiler, but it will take the fun out of feeling as confused as Christine when you read the novel! 🙂

Before I Go to Sleep is a story about a woman named Christine. She wakes up not remembering anything about the night before, she pick the pieces of her life and when she falls asleep again she will forgets everything little fragment she remembers during the day. Her memory only last 24 hours or less in her waking hours in a day. She was told she lost her memory because of a car crash. Everyday her patient husband Ben repeats the basic and tells her who he is, how to take care of herself while he is at work, he tells her he is a teacher with a local college.

The novel starts with the chapter “Today” then Christine recalled she kept a journal, and the mid section of the books contain all of Christine’s journal entries. At the end of the book, it comes back to “Today”. The format was unusual. It messes up with my head a little. Then again the best thing Christine did was to keep a journal. Encouraged by Dr Nash in pursuit of medical research into Christine’s condition, without Ben’s knowledge, has encouraged Christine to keep a journal. The ironic thing is she remembers where she kept it, and reads it everyday to refresh her memory about her past and seek answers to some of the confounding questions she has.

Christine suspects her husband is not telling the truth, as days goes by she discovered that she once had a child, that she did certain things and that she used to have a close friend. But she also empathise with her husband who had put up with her for 20 years when she is in such condition. Any other men would have left, but her husband didn’t. He must have loved her. Ben must have provide her with a sanitised version of her past so that she doesn’t get hurt everyday, or is he manipulating her perception of her world? Can she or can she not trust her husband? This is where the strength of this debut psychological thriller: is to have the ability to sway you from one way to the next, without being able to make up your mind.

It is a confusing book but it confuses you enough to want to find the answer. I like what the Guardian says about being able to share with the reader – a delicate appreciation of the links between fabulation (that is, the writing of stories that violate readerly expectations) and confabulation (the creation of false memories and experiences by a damaged brain). It started slow and it gives me the feeling of the book given more hype than it deserves but as layer by layer the truth is revealed and it culminates into a gasping end, I knew this one simple confusing story is written by the hand of a master.

A first novel by an NHS (UK’s National Health Services) audiologist, SJ Watson wrote the book in between shifts at London’s St Thomas’s Hospital, the book is exceptionally accomplished. Initially I thought the mention of the writer (I didn’t even know the gender and I assume it was a woman author!) worked in the NHS in a number of years must be a nurse in a mental health institution but I was surprised that the author was a guy and not only that the book has sold its movie rights to Ridley Scott.

I kept a journal since I was young but have stopped for a hiatus of a decade. The book made me think about how important it is for me to record my days again.

Like Judith@Leeswammes Blog, being the cynic that I am, I didn’t believe Christine has the time or the opportunity to write such a long journal entries everyday (even I find it hard to write one book review these days!) and to top it off read all her entries in the past. Due to some parts that suspense my belief (such as her journal was burnt at the end, how on earth are we readers able to read it still?) I will give it a 4.5 star.

However, if you can sustain your belief about the practicality of what Christine can do, this is still an enjoyable book written in an unusual format, well paced tension and culminating into a nail-biting climax. I hardly say this for a thriller, but this is one that I will be re-reading it again. It is the sort that you get to the end and the light bulb lit up and everything starts to make sense. Superb story telling. Well deserved its international attention.


Hardback. Publisher: Doubleday April 2011; Length: 366 pages; Setting: North London, UK.  Source: Library copy. Finished reading at: 6th January 2012.

Other views:

Judith @ leeswammes Blog: The book is very well written and although the individual entries in the journal are a bit long (I wouldn’t think she’d have the time to write that much on a day), they told me all I wanted to know and nothing more. In other words, it never became boring. A fast and good read, very believable. Only the end was a little too convenient for my taste.

Savidge reads‘Before I Go To Sleep’ is a very clever book. It takes a relatively simple, and equally possible, scenario and flips it on its head. In fact it’s the very domestic and almost mundane ordinariness of the books setting which makes it so unnerving. The fact Watson does this, on the whole, in one house between three characters is truly impressive. It’s an original, fast paced, gripping and rather high concept novel. I am wondering just what on earth, Watson is going to follow this up with… and how? 9/10

Dolce bellezza: “Seriously,” I told my friends at dinner last night, “you have to read this book.” A nail biting truth with a harrowing edge. One that makes me grateful for my choices, and my memory, upon turning the final page.

Did I miss your reviews? If so, let me know.

About the writer:

Steve “S. J.” Watson (born 1971) is an English writer. He debuted in 2011 with the thriller novel Before I Go to Sleep. Rights to publish the book have been sold in 37 different countries around the world and it has gone on to be an international bestseller.

Watson was born in Stourbridge, in the West Midlands. He studied Physics at the University of Birmingham and then moved to London, where he worked in various hospitals and specialized in the diagnostic and treatment of hearing-impaired children. In the evening and weekends he wrote fiction.

In 2009 Watson was accepted for the first course Writing a Novel at the Faber Academy. The result was his debut, Before I Go to Sleep. He was introduced to literary agent Clare Conville on the last night of the course and she agreed to represent him. The book was published in April 2011. In the same year it was announced that the book would be adapted for the big screen by Ridley Scott, with Rowan Joffe slated to write and direct.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


27 thoughts on “Before I go to sleep…. (I must remember!)

  1. I really enjoyed this book. There is something about losing one’s memory that is fascinating. Who to trust, what to do with yourself, etc. I danced with a man who lost all this memory after a car accident and it was painful to watch him go through the process and sad to see him come out with a different personality

    Posted by Helen | January 13, 2012, 1:51 pm
    • Helen,
      I read about stories of memory loss but haven’t never been in your position to watch it happen. It just makes fiction into reality isn’t it? It must be sad to lose one memory. Thanks for sharing.

      Posted by JoV | January 14, 2012, 8:07 pm
  2. Very nice review. I have a contrary view to Helen’s: I didn’t like it. I found it an interesting premise but poorly executed and there were so many plot holes I just lost all empathy with it. Review to come! (A much better suspense novel published last year along similar “what is reality, asks woman?” lines is Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, if you want a recommendation 😉 ). It has about a zillion great reviews on Amazon. The author won a prize to get the book published, very well deserved.

    Posted by Maxine | January 13, 2012, 2:08 pm
    • Maxine,
      I truly agree that there were so many holes in it. As an expert thriller books reviewer, you know better than me to spot them! Thanks for the recommendation on Haynes. I’ll check it out.

      Posted by JoV | January 14, 2012, 8:09 pm
  3. I heeded your advice of skipping the review, but when I saw that you gave this 4.5 stars, ” Before I sleep ” now heads my pile of ” books to seek ” 🙂 The concept seems intriguing

    Posted by Joanna | January 13, 2012, 4:18 pm
  4. You bring up excellent points with which to doubt the store, yet I agree with you in giving it 4 and 1/2 stars. It was riveting in so many ways! I’ve even passed it on to my team (fellow teachers) who are not necessarily what I would call bibliophiles, and they’ve loved it. (My review is here, but I loved reading yours.)

    p.s. Your blog looks lovely.

    Posted by Bellezza | January 13, 2012, 4:36 pm
  5. Interesting premise but one that’s been done before. I passed on it for that reason. You did a fabulous job of reviewing it though.

    Posted by Ti | January 13, 2012, 5:52 pm
  6. Lovely review. I didn’t like the book much at all (I guess I couldn’t suspend my disbelief) but I can always enjoy a well written review. I do agree that memory loss is fascinating though, at around the same time as I read this one I also read Alice La Plante’s TURN OF MIND, about a woman who starts to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease – it’s a sort of crime novel in that there’s some evidence that she killed someone but she cannot remember and there isn’t enough evidence to prove it – but the novel is really the story of her loss of identity through losing her memory – it’s told from her perspective and it’s awfully sad (especially if you have any personal experience of loved ones who have suffered this horrid disease) but it is a terrific read.

    Oh and I love the new backdrop (not sure how new it is – maybe I haven’t stopped by in a while?…that’s a new blog name too isn’t it?)

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | January 13, 2012, 8:18 pm
    • Bernadette,
      I just revamp the blog on new year’s day…. and play around with new name… but I’m not totally convinced with the name. I’ll sit on it and perhaps it will will grow in me, because it hasn’t. LOL 🙂

      Interesting recommendation on Alice La Plante’s book. I’ll check it out. I trust both yours and Maxine’s recommendation, perhaps there is too much hype on this book. 😉

      Posted by JoV | January 14, 2012, 8:19 pm
  7. I didn’t read the bulk of your review because I do hope to read this one at some point and want to go in as “unspoiled” as possible, but what I did read really excited me! I love books that deal with the question of memory (the film Memento blows my mind every single time!) so I am hoping I love this one.

    Posted by Steph | January 13, 2012, 8:44 pm
  8. Nice review, Jo. I agree completely with it. Except I gave it 5 stars. I did like the idea and the execution so much, that I could live with the improbability that she’d read and write all that much every day.

    Posted by Leeswammes | January 13, 2012, 9:05 pm
  9. I’ve just skimmed your review and the comments for now as this is a book I keep hearing about and am determined to read very soon! I’ll pop back once I’ve read it and read your review properly – 4 1/2 stars is good enough to spur me into finding a copy for the time being though. I’m also enjoying your new layout – very professional and enticing 0:)

    Posted by Tracey | January 15, 2012, 9:04 pm
  10. This is one that has received mostly high marks. I’m anxious to read this one sometime in 2012. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Posted by Diane@BibliophileBytheSea | January 16, 2012, 3:15 pm
  11. I’m about 3/4 of the way through this book and am loving it. I agree that I have to suspend my disbelief in several places, but I am enjoying it so much that I don’t care – I can’t wait to find out how it ends.

    Posted by farmlanebooks | January 17, 2012, 1:35 pm
  12. I’ve finished this book and so am now able to read your review. It sounds as though we had very similar thoughts. There were a lot of sections that I found unconvincing, but I didn’t really care as I was so gripped! I didn’t realise that SJ Watson worked in the NHS. I’m going to see him talk on Wednesday and am looking forward to seeing what he’s like in person. I’ll let you know 🙂

    Posted by farmlanebooks | January 23, 2012, 8:35 pm
    • Jackie,
      Oh please do! He looks a little quirky and I’m sure he would be interesting. I was entertained but I put aside my disbeliefs and try to enjoy the book for what it is worth. Thanks for dropping by… 😀

      Posted by JoV | January 23, 2012, 8:49 pm


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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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