Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson

SleepChristine wakes up in the morning and doesn’t recognise the man sleeping in the bed next to her. Nor do the photos posted in the bathroom assist her, they refuse to evoke any memories. Every day she wakes with the same feeling, she remembers nothing of the past 20 years and is surprised to find herself middle-aged and wonders who is in the bed beside her.

Her doctor suggests she begins to write things into a journal that she can read each morning, promising to call her in the morning to tell her where the journal is, so she can quickly bring herself up to date with what she has leaned the previous day.

He also suggests she keeps it to herself, that she not share it with her husband. Can she trust her doctor, can she trust her husband? The journal both helps and confuses her, until ultimately it reveals what she needs to know and the incredible facts that have been kept from her.

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J.Watson is an award-winning crime/thriller novel, a best seller when it came out – however it is not the kind of book I would usually choose to read, which probably best explains why it was an okay read for me and not one that I can say too much about.

It’s a suspense novel, however because a large portion of the novel is taken up with reading Christine’s journal, (about two-thirds of the novel) the suspense is delayed (in my opinion) until the last 50 pages and that middle section is more one of mild intrigue. It can get a little repetitive as each day she must go through the same thing, slowly learning more about what happened to her to cause her amnesia and what has happened in the last twenty years. A very long time.

The reader becomes increasingly suspicious despite Christine’s best intentions to convince us that everything is okay. S.J.Watson is good at withholding any clue to what will eventually be revealed, however some of these absences felt inauthentic, as if Christine wasn’t really interested in finding out more about the people around her and why there only appear to be two people in her life, her husband and her doctor. It might have been more intense if she’d been more curious and insistent to know the truth and challenged those she is in contact with about the inconsistencies.

One of the measures of a great book for me is to highlight passages throughout a book, sentences and paragraphs that make me want to reread, that create an image, that evoke something, they are the literary gems. This is not that kind of book, but I am happy that it was suggested by the book club, we had a very interesting discussion about it and the idea of losing one’s memory or another sense.

And for fans of the book, it looks like there is a film in the making, with Nicole Kidman as Christine:

Sleep Tweet

And in another thread on twitter S.J.Watson admits that he has finished his long-awaited, next book.

TruthAboutHarryAnd even though I say it’s not my genre, I am about to read another, knowing that it too probably won’t offer much in terms of literary highlights, but this thriller is a French translation that is taking the world by storm.

It has already become a bestseller in France with over 2 million copies sold in Europe and was part of a heated auction for the English publication rights. It has to be read if one wants to contribute to the conversation after all.

So watch out for The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, the debut novel by 28-year-old Swiss author Joël Dicker, likely to be a popular read this summer.

Interview in The Observer Joël Dicker: ‘I lost a bit of control of my life’

18 thoughts on “Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson

  1. I read BEFORE i GO TO SLEEP, too. At first, it sometimes seems slow and repetitious because of Christine’s same routine every day. But it’s also more and more mysterious with each new memory.

    Here is what I know: there are several different types of amnesia and a few different possible causes, brain trauma being just one of them. Brain trauma is the cause Ben claims to Christine. But is he being honest?

    Many other readers of this book complain about its implausibility. If they are referring to Christine’s amnesia, that is probably easier for me to believe because I, too, had amnesia as a result of an accident and still occasionally regain memories I didn’t know I had forgotten, even after 34 years. For a short time, I couldn’t even retain day-to-day memories. So I know Watson wasn’t completely making this up, just stretching the truth.

    Although the amnesia described in BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP isn’t implausible, I did catch things that are. But I just went along with it.


    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. I didn’t think the amnesia was implausible and recall at the back of the book references to real people and a memoir that were part of the inspiration for the book, it was the inability of the character to react to the lies, to challenge and question things she knew. IN terms of story telling, it would have made it more thrilling, the character didn’t take enough risks and it became frustrating to continue to read her reluctance to be more reactive to what she was being told. That’s a choice made by the author, it’s just that for me it affected my enjoyment of the story.


  2. This was a holiday read for me a couple of years ago. I thought it was well constructed but, like you, it’s not the kind of novel I usually read. I’m not surprised that it’s going to be adapted for the screen although Christopher Nolan’s Momento is set in similar territory and would be very hard to beat.


  3. I really liked this one, even though it is not the type I usually read, either. Something about memory loss is intriguing, though (as long as it isn’t happening to me).


  4. I’m going home to Switzerland to visit family this summer so I will pick up Joël Dicker’s book while there per your suggestion – sounds like the perfect book to read while on holiday.


  5. In the past few years I have come to terms with the fact I feel uneasy about popular books in general…I do love my literary merit but then again I do like light books as well. I suppose anything that lacks sufficient depth has become my guilty pleasure…I shall probably not end up reading the former, although it is an intriguing premise and will await the next with interest. Having said that if the first is going to be a film then I can’t be doing with people asking me if I’ve read it so I may end up doing so anyway…I do have a reputation of sorts to maintain.


    • Well fortunately summer is approaching, that’s the season when I allow myself guilty pleasures and chunksters, this year it’s going to be The Goldfinch – although maybe it’s not as lightweight as I thought given it won a pulitzer prize. And then here I am already into the Harry Quebert Affair, but at least I know what I am in for.

      I don’t like to completely avoid popular fiction, but I like to be a little discerning, I did read the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and they were definitely page turners, but didn’t indulge 50 shades or Hunger Games, a bit too much like the effect of junk food for me and I hate that feeling afterwards, as if life is too short sort of thing.


  6. I wasn’t crazy about this book, I only read it as I got a copy because it was part of the Birmingham big city read. I thought it was predictable I saw the ending coming and I’m just not mad about plot driven narratives. I seem to be in the minority though.


  7. I listened to the audiobook of Before I Go To Sleep last year, and I liked it well-enough. I’m always a little cautious of books that dole out information like cards in a deck, but I thought it was pretty effective. I was a little disappointed it fell into sort of a “classic” obsession/damsel-in-distress climax, but there you go. I actually think a film might be a good medium for the story.

    Thanks for the tip on the French book, too!


  8. Interesting review. I’m also not a big thriller reader, but every once in a while I give them a try. Might try this, and since I like reading in French, I’ll take your Joël Dicker advice. Merci!


  9. I read ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ a few years ago and thought it okay, but a bit contrived. It’s interesting that Susan mentions Christopher Nolan’s film ‘Memento’ in her comment above – I had the same reference point and I think it covers similar themes much more effectively than Watson’s book.


  10. Wonderful review, Claire! I love the premise of this book, and though I haven’t read a book by S.J.Watson before, I think I might like this one. It looks like a good summer light read. Have you read ‘Trap for Cinderella’ by Sebastien Japrisot? It is a French thriller and has a plot which is similar in some ways (the main character doesn’t know who she is). In that book, there is a fire in a house and two women are found inside, one dead and one alive. The one alive is not recognizable because of the fire burns. After she slowly gains consciousness and gains her health a bit, she discovers (through her conversations with others and by doing some deduction of her own) that two friends lived in that house and one of them wanted to kill the other by setting fire to the house so that she could inherit her wealth. Our heroine doesn’t know whether she is the intended victim or whether she is the murderer 🙂

    I saw ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ in the Goodreads shelves of some of my friends recently and I was wondering what it was about. Now after reading your description of it, I want to read that book 🙂 Hope you enjoy reading it. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. Happy reading!


  11. I read Before I Go to Sleep a year or two ago and loved it, although I agree about the journals being repetitive. It was like Groundhog Day or something. I didn’t know S.J Watson had another book coming out though, so I’m excited for that! Great review!


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