Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Amnesia: long the staple of daytime soap operas and wacky sitcom hijinks.  And, apparently, current novels.  To-read example: What Alice Forgot, about a woman who wakes up with no memory of her last ten years and finds that her suburban mom life looks lonely and miserable when you jump right into it.  That's up next.

But from the just-read pile, we have the psychological thriller Before I Go To Sleep, by S.J. Watson.  This book is a great example of why I like to write reviews while I'm in the middle of a book--I felt a lot more passionately about it while I was reading it.  It's also a good example of why I shouldn't do that--my opinion of the end of the book was very different from how I felt about the middle.

Christine wakes up confused in a bed she doesn't know, next to a man she doesn't recognize.  Every morning.  She doesn't recognize the face in the mirror, either.  Christine has amnesia--she can retain memories for a day, but when she falls asleep every night, it all slips away.  She's been this way for years; she was in a hospital for a long time, but now her husband, Ben, cares for her at home.

As the day goes on, she learns more; she's seeing a therapist, keeping a journal that Ben doesn't know about.  She finds clues about her life, makes guesses, has doubts.  Watson does an excellent job with the unreliable narrator.  Christine catches her husband in lies, some larger and some smaller.  But are they lies of convenience, or something more sinister?  Why is she keeping her journal from him?  And her memory isn't perfect--things slip.  Her theories and reactions range from reasonable to inappropriate, and she's not always sure what's going on.  And every day, she has to learn all this again by reading her journal.

The tension between the facts and Christine's emotions, the mysteries and the lies, all of this is very well executed, and I was never sure who to trust or how clearly Christine was thinking. I can't say that I didn't guess the ending, but that's mostly because, at one point or another, every possible ending occurred to me.

Now, I'm not going to spoil anything, but I'll admit that the ending really didn't live up to the rest of the book for me.  The resolution to the story was a little Hollywood, a little pat, but it was also pretty clunky in its execution.  The same events could have been written in a less melodramatic way--less of a Dramatic Confrontation, fewer characters making illogical choices, less conveniently wrapped up in a tidy little package, and heaven help us, building up more gradually.  The last 25 pages or so of the book were a fast-moving "and then this happened and then that happened and then there was a big confrontation and then it was all over the end" chunk of brick.

It's a shame, because the psychological tension, the confusion, and the doubts that I had in the narrator made for a really enthralling read up until that point.  I still suggest reading it--as I said, the ending wasn't unsatisfying--but my positive review does come with a caveat.  Enter at your own risk.

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