Before I Go to Sleep is the thrilling debut novel by S.J. Watson (watch the book trailer below). Here’s a little back-story on how I found this gem in that vast pile of rubble known as the internet. A couple of months ago while perusing one of the countless advice-for-writers websites I’ve been known to haunt, I stumbled upon an ad in the sidebar for a book. Like most people who spend too much idle time online, I’ve trained myself to ignore most ad content that isn’t flashing, twirling, or talking at me on autoplay. But this was a simple book ad with a picture of a book cover, a title, and an unfamiliar author’s name. I’ve probably seen thousands of them. But something made me click on S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. An hour later, I’d read the synopsis and then a very generous excerpt of the book and had totally forgotten the website that linked me to this treasure or whatever writing advice I’d hoped to glean from it. I knew I had to buy this book and immediately added it to my ever-growing list of “must-reads.”
The excerpt that I’d read was about a woman named Christine Lucas who wakes up one morning in a foreign bedroom next to a total stranger, a man wearing a wedding band. She wonders if the man’s wife will come storming in any minute and thinks to escape before that can happen. Mortified and naked, she pads down the hallway to a bathroom she doesn’t recognize, assuming that this is the day after a one-night stand, until she looks in the mirror. The face staring back at her is twenty years older than it’s supposed to be. Horror grips her, confusion spins her, and she realizes she does not know who she is.
The man soon wakes up and with the soothing familiarity of a well-worn explanation, tells Christine that his name is Ben and he is her husband. This is how they begin each day, with Ben then showing Christine a scrapbook with some photographs of their life together. Though there are no wedding pictures, she accepts what Ben tells her each day and can remember all of it and anything else she learns or does for just one whole day, until she goes to sleep. When she wakes up in the morning, it’s all gone and the horror and confusion plays out all over again.
It isn’t until Christine secretly begins undergoing treatment with a kind, ambitious doctor who urges her to keep a daily journal (and calls to remind her of it and who he is every day) that patchy memories of her life begin to resurface. It is only by recording them that she is able to begin piecing together the people and events that made up her life before the violent incident that robbed her of her memories, her life. Ben tells her it was a hit-and-run accident, that the driver got away. He seems sincere, but Christine is not sure whether she believes him, for inside her journal beneath her name she has written “Don’t Trust Ben.”
Those three little words are what hooked me. Though a month had gone by, this book — this character, Christine, her total amnesia, and “Don’t Trust Ben” haunted me until I finally relented and dropped whatever else I was working on to read Before I Go to Sleep all the way through. I just had to know Christine’s fate, whether Ben truly was a loving husband or up to no good, same with the doctor who called out of the blue one morning to help her while warning Christine not to tell her husband, and who was the mysterious redhead who kept popping up in Christine’s mind in various settings? Were those mere fabrications of imagination produced by her broken brain or were they real memories of a dear friend long, long gone? Watson’s masterful foreshadowing beckons the reader to hang on with bated breath from the first page to the last and duplicates within the reader the same sense of urgency to get to the truth of who Christine Lucas was, who she is now, what is real and what is not.
Watson makes us feel for Christine and wary of those who claim to care for her. Together, both reader and character take this terrifying journey through darkness and we hope and pray that together we will find light at the end that will restore the peace and clarity that was stolen from Christine twenty years ago. We need to know, will she ever get that back? Or will evil forces in her life keep her in the dark forever or worse, put an end to her fragile sanity for good?
Like a sinister mash-up of 50 First Dates-meets-Groundhog Day, where the adorably funny cockeyed romance is replaced by fear, mistrust, and spellbinding mystery, Before I Go to Sleep is a page-turning thriller. It is just the first of what I personally hope to be many books to come from S.J. Watson. I’m thrilled that Ridley Scott has acquired the film rights to Before I Go to Sleep. Check out www.sjwatson-books.com to learn more about this brilliant new author and watch the book trailer below.