As another year came to a close, I was searching for some unknown authors to finish off my year and I Googled some movies which were made based on books. Out of the usual suspects of Hunger Games and Harry Potter, I was surprised to see a book called Before I Go To Sleep, nestled between these bestsellers. Intrigued, I skimmed through its Wikipedia entry, and I was stunned to find that the book was named as one of the best in the year 2011 and that the author, Steven Watson had won a host of awards for it. When I asked about it in my local library, I got to know that it was available. So like the avid reader I was, I decided to give it a go.
Before I Go To Sleep begins suddenly, with Christine Lucas waking up in her bed and not knowing who he is. She is quickly pacified by her husband Ben, who explains that she has anterograde amnesia due to a car accident twenty years ago. This is means that she is unable to form new memories and that her current memories only last for a day at best. He explains that she wakes up every day in more or less the same manner and that he explains the same thing over and over again. Perplexed at first, Christine slowly realizes that Ben is telling the truth as she looks through various messages written in the bathroom and in pictures.
While Christine is reluctant to believe it at first, she slowly accepts the fact that her life will never be the same. Though she knows that her memories only last a day, she tries her best to remember the various things that Ben tells her but fails. Her life seems dull and monotonous as she follows notes in the kitchen and her bedroom, trying to remember something of her past. She has occasional flashes of memory – a party, meeting Ben and talking to a familiar red-haired woman, but the memories fade as soon as they appear which frustrate her all the more. Then, she receives a phone call from someone who calls himself Dr. Nash, and her life changes in one wild moment.
Before I Go To Sleep is flawless. The reader might feel that the initial explanation of Christine’s life is a bit mundane, but the story picks up the pace once she meets Dr. Nash. Revelations from Dr. Nash rock Christine’s life as more and more memories return to her, and she is shocked to see that some of them are in direct contrast to what Ben has made her believe. Wracked with fear, Christine begins to doubt everyone, and the reader is made to echo her thoughts. New characters appear and go away, and Christine’s amnesia begins to gradually get better. She starts to keep a journal, which is essentially the crux of the story as the reader reads each entry which Christine makes, trying to fill the holes in her life.
It was quite a surprise when I learned that this book was actually the debut novel of Steven Watson, who wields the art of describing emotions perfectly. Christine’s helplessness at not being able to form new memories is mirrored in Ben’s protective nature as he tries to lessen the hurt in his wife. Dr. Nash is shrouded in mystery for most of the novel, and it is only with the appearance of Claire – the red-headed woman – that things finally start to clear. Before I Go To Sleep is a masterpiece of a novel which keeps the reader guessing until the end. The prospect of amnesia has been explored in movies like Memento and The Bourne Identity, but it is quite difficult to express the difficulties faced by the protagonist in the book. This is precisely where the book comes out as a winner, perfectly capturing the emotions of Christine as she goes about her quest for truth.
Before I Go To Sleep is a winner all the way, and definitely one of the best books of this decade. It features a narrator who can trust no one but herself, which is ironic as she is not in control of her own memories. With superb narration, an iron-clad plot and a shocking twist at the end, Before I Go To Sleep has paved its own way into one of the better books in recent times.