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Dr. Evil: Scott, I want you to meet daddy’s nemesis, Austin Powers.

Scott: What? Are you feeding him? Why don’t you just kill him?

Dr. Evil: I have an even better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.

I kept thinking of this situation during the last 50 pages or so of Before I Go to Sleep. Except without the humor aspect. And Reader, that is not the way to end a good mystery, which is too bad, because otherwise, the book had the makings of a quite good one.

The book begins when Christine wakes up one morning next to a strange man in a strange room. Thinking she’ll wash up and get dressed before finding out what’s going on, she looks in the mirror and realizes that she is in the body of a woman much older than her twenty nine years. When she screams, the man from the bedroom rushes in to calm her and to explain to her that she is home, he is her husband, and she has a kind of amnesia that prevents her from remembering anything that happens in a day once she goes to sleep at night. She is, in fact, forty seven years old, and cannot remember anything that’s happened since a car accident nearly twenty years ago. After her husband, Ben, goes off to work for the day, Christine discovers that she has been secretly seeing a doctor to help her with her memory problems. To create some sense of continuity, she has also been keeping a secret journal. Written on the first page, in her writing, the journal reads, “Don’t trust Ben.”

It’s a great premise, and it certainly kept me reading into the night. The book is well-paced, and the journal device works seamlessly to create a contiguous narrative for the reader while not violating the restrictions of Christine’s amnesia. There are some excellent red herrings, and I only realized the solution a few pages before it is actually presented, but the ending is lackluster. Christine might as well have been placed in a room with sharks with laser beams on their heads.
I kept yelling (mentally; my actual, well-remembered husband was asleep next to me) “You can leave now! Just walk out! Ask for help! Feel free to scream!” But Christine, even when she realizes the danger she is in, needs to find the answers to her questions. It strains plausibility. Because of this inexplicable narrative misstep, the denouement is drawn out for longer than I would have preferred, and the resolution is rushed.

Sometimes the ending of a book can ruin what is otherwise an excellent work. I wouldn’t say that’s the case with Before I Go to Sleep, but I will say that a more powerful ending could have cemented it more firmly in my mind. While I enjoyed it and would recommend it as a summer read, I suspect that the bulk of the novel will not prove strong enough to survive in my imagination very long.

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One thought on “Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

  1. Pingback: November So Far: Snap Reviews of Hugh Howey’s Dust, Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life, and Emma Chapman’s How to Be a Good Wife | Effusions of Wit and Humour

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