Thursday 31 May 2012

Before I go to sleep: Review

Before I go to sleep
SJ Watson
Published in 2011
Published by Transworld Publishers
ISBN: 9780552164139

What are we if not the collection of all our memories. What is the point of life if not to collect these golden (and occasionally not so golden) snapshots and home movies that play in our minds. Surely the reward for age is that feeling of warmth that washes over us when we recall the day we met a cherished friend, or spent the afternoon chatting with our now deceased grandparents. Albert Camus famously once said that “Life is a sum of all your choices.” Our past shapes us in all sorts of different ways, making us the person we see staring back at us from the other side of the mirror. What would life be if we lost the ability to recall this past?

Christine is an amnesiac. Every morning she wakes up to find a strange man in her bed and the shocking realisation that she is at least 20 years older than she thought. An accident in her late twenties has rendered her ability to store newly created memories useless and so every single day she struggles to make sense of the life she has been living since that day. An old scrapbook of photographs and the patience of her husband, Ben, are what buoys Christine through these terrible mornings until one day she awakes to find a disturbing entry in the daily journal she has been keeping as part of her rehabilitation: Don't trust Ben.

The race to discover the truth about her relationship with Ben is what gives this book its punch – is Ben truly untrustworthy or is it purely Christine's inability to remember anything that has caused her to question him? It's a fast-paced thriller that keeps the reader engaged and wanting more, but it's not only the question of Ben that keeps the pages turning, it's whether Erica will be able to recover her ability to remember. Memory is a mysterious and ethereal concept that has a hold over all of us and the thought that we could maybe lose it, as Christine has done, is horrifyingly gripping. And it's not just a great premise for a work of fiction – this novel was inspired by those who deal with these challenges in real life. If this subject of amnesia interests you, I would recommend that you seek out Forever Today: A memoir of love and amnesia by Deborah Wearing.

I would recommend this one for the summer reading list – nothing helps a long wait in the airport terminal better than a good bit of fiction in your hands. It's not perfect and there are times when your suspension of disbelief will be stretched (especially if you've got anything more than a passing interest in memory disorders and neurological capabilities) but if you can put that to one side and just enjoy the journey this book will take you on, I doubt you will be disappointed. We all need a bit of escapism from time to time, after all!