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By now, most of you will realise that this novel is the 2011 winner of the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. We’ve already seen plenty of reviews and experienced the immense buzz, but I here I add my personal thoughts.
Before I Go To Sleep could be argued to be a twist on the locked room mystery. Although we are not presented with a crime at the outset, Christine’s world is inhabited by a small number of individuals and locked in a daily spiral where she is able to retain memory only for the course of her waking day. Like Christine, we don’t know how this came to be, but we experience a sense of foreboding as we read her story. And, as in the locked room mystery, we receive a number of query prompts during the telling of her tale, and these prove to be clues along the way for which we seek an explanation and a final mingling into resolution.
We first meet Christine at the start of her day. She wakes to an unfamiliar bedroom and an unfamiliar female voice. The voice comes from a radio alarm clock which she manages to suppress. She sees a dressing gown hanging from the wardrobe door and registers it as belonging to a woman much older than her. And then she realises that there is a man lying beside her on the bed. He is wearing a wedding ring. As Christine seeks the bathroom, she believes she has erroneously and shamefully had a one night stand with an older man. But then she learns otherwise, for when she looks in the mirror she sees not a young woman, but a middle-aged woman. The mirror and the surrounding wall are dotted with pictures and post-it notes and this is the start of her morning discovery of who she is. The pictures show her her history; the picture and notes tell her that the man in the bed is her husband, Ben. Later, after Ben has left, the key to unlocking the mystery is delivered with a phone call from Dr Nash. He reminds her of her appointment with him, reminds her that Ben may not know about these appointments, and he directs her to her diary where she finds the words ‘Don’t tell Ben’.
And so begins the story of Christine. Seasoned readers may anticipate one of the (and key) twists quite easily, but this is more a story requiring the answers to the questions ‘how’ and ‘why’. When reading, questions are raised, some crucial to the plot and some not. I wondered what they did about sex, for here we are presented with a husband familiar with his wife of many years, but a wife living in a constant first date scenario. Impressively, Watson did not shy away from exploring this, but I’ll leave you to read it to find out what happens.
Before I Go To Sleep contains some exquisite writing which is a joy to read. It is possible to feel that suspension of disbelief is required on times when it comes to the plot; and the dramatic ending was perhaps not quite as dramatic as it could have been, or as desired by all readers. Structurally, I also felt it had a flagging section in the middle, where repetition did not serve to move the plot along at a consistent pace. But with Before I Go To Sleep we have a beautifully written novel that offers something different from the usual crime fare. It’s a novel that stands out from the crowd for that difference.
Many congratulations to S J Watson. I expect that in S J Watson we are seeing an author with a very big future.