Monday, 10 November 2014

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson Review


(I jump in and out of spoilers throughout – it’s the only way to review this trash - so rather than constantly having to stop myself to write “spoilers”, I’m writing it at the top of the review. Fair warning.)

Christine has a very specific type of amnesia: every day she wakes up not knowing who the man sleeping next to her is. She also forgets that she’s 47 and not in her early twenties as she believes. She forgets that she was in an accident that caused her memory loss, she forgets that she had a son who died in Afghanistan, she forgets that she was once a successful novelist. She has to relearn everything about her past, every single day – before she goes to sleep and does it all over again tomorrow.

Christine has a very specific type of amnesia: every day she wakes up not knowing who the man sleeping next to her is. She also forgets that she’s 47 and not in her early twenties as she believes. She forgets that she was in an accident that caused her memory loss, she forgets that she had a son who died in Afghanistan, she forgets that she was once a successful novelist. She has to relearn everything about her past, every single day – before she goes to sleep and does it all over again tomorrow.

Christine has a very specific type of amnesia: every day she wakes up not knowing who the man sleeping next to her is. She also forgets that she’s 47 and not in her early twenties as she believes. She forgets that she was in an accident that caused her memory loss, she forgets that she had a son who died in Afghanistan, she forgets that she was once a successful novelist. She has to relearn everything about her past, every single day – before she goes to sleep and does it all over again tomorrow.

Christine has a very specific type of amnesia: every day she wakes up not knowing who the man sleeping next to her is. She also forgets that she’s 47 and not in her early twenties as she believes. She forgets that she was in an accident that caused her memory loss, she forgets that she had a son who died in Afghanistan, she forgets that she was once a successful novelist. She has to relearn everything about her past, every single day – before she goes to sleep and does it all over again tomorrow.

Imagine reading hundreds of pages written in a dull prose style with little variation to the story. Reading SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep is a maddening experience. For about 85% of the book (I know because I read this on a Kindle), NOTHING HAPPENS. Christine wakes up, she reads her journal (which is the novel we are reading) and relearns things about her life. I can’t tell you how completely boring a reading experience this book was. The fact that it’s labelled “thriller” is a joke – there isn’t a single thrilling aspect to this story.

Some readers have complained about the conceit that this novel is Christine’s journal – that she constantly has to reference the fact that she’s run off to write in her journal while its fresh in her mind - and how this is unrealistic, especially as its written in a very deliberate novelistic style, etc. I get that, but I’ll forgive the novel that because that’s just the format of the tale. But I was often reminded of HP Lovecraft’s narrators who are always scribbling in their notebooks while the terror is right at their door… woooo, beware the corniness!

Hang on - maybe the ending saves it? Nope. The ending is arguably what breaks this novel beyond repair.

I guessed the twist ending long before it was revealed. Of course her husband “Ben” doesn’t turn out to be her real husband Ben but a crazy stalker impersonator. Except we’re meant to believe that this imposter was able to discharge Christine from a mental hospital without anyone asking for ID to prove he was who he said he was.

Furthermore, we’re supposed to believe that Christine – a person with massive mental problems that has left her hospitalised for significant lengths of time – would receive no follow-up visits from a nurse, psychologist or care-giver. See, in Britain we have the NHS, so most people have free healthcare. It doesn’t work exactly like that but I won’t get into the intricacies of it here. I’ll just say that someone like Christine would easily qualify for the kind of services that would send a professional to her home on a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly basis.

The fact that we’re supposed to believe that a complete stranger could take a severely ill patient out of an institution and then keep them hostage for months on end without a healthcare professional doing a follow-up visit, or that her son or friends wouldn’t call or find out why they haven’t heard from her for months, is asking too much of this reader. It’s frankly insulting to think anyone would be so stupid as to swallow Watson’s scenario whole. And in the author’s bio it says he worked in the NHS for “many years” – how does he not know things like this?!

And Dr Nash – is he the world’s worst doctor? How did he not pick up on any of this in his multiple sessions with her? Also, instead of helping her, he ends up flirting with her! He’s an appalling medical “professional”! Then at the end Christine conveniently gets her memory back! Everything about the plot is hopelessly contrived. You can only suspend disbelief so far.

I can’t think of a single positive thing to say about this book. The characters are dull. The story is comatose until the last 15% of the book and then it’s a gibbering mess of nonsense. Watson’s writing is repetitious, flat and lifeless. The bulk of the novel is beyond boring and the ending beggars belief, it’s so bad. I cannot believe a single person would enjoy this dreck and yet there are literally thousands of people who have. I am stunned.

Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island is a masterpiece and a genuine thriller along similar lines to Before I Go To Sleep and I recommend reading that instead. I’m now going to do my best to forget this drivel but not the name of this writer, so I never have to suffer through another of his novels again!

Before I Go To Sleep

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