As with J K Rowling, this author does not give us a Christian name - perhaps not wanting to be judged by gender. There is no information on the book jacket either, but on checking on Amazon there is a picture of the author - and it is a man. I found this slightly surprising as the novel is written from a woman's point of view and I just assumed that S J Watson was a woman. That will teach me not to make assumptions.
Well, no matter as I sat down and read Before I go to Sleep straight through in one sitting. The tag line on the front of the jacket is by Tess Gerritsen and states 'quite simply the best debut novel I've ever read'. I am not going to argue too much with her here as it is certainly going on my list. Also has raves from Sophie Hannah, Lionel Shriver, Joannes Harris and Anita Shreve to name a few but glad I did not notice all these until I had finished the book - one's hopes can be raised too high.
Christina wakes up one morning in a strange bed next to a strange man. She groans with dismay thinking she must have got drunk the night before and come home with this stranger. She goes through to the bathroom locking the door behind her in order to get dressed and sneak out. The she looks up at her reflection in the mirror.
"The face I see looking back at me is not my own. The hair has no volume and is cut much shorter than I wear it, the skin on the cheeks and under the chin sages, the lips are thin, the mouth turned down. I cry out, a wordless gasp that would turn into a shriek of shock were I to let it.....the person in the mirror is me, but I am twenty years too old"
Christina is 47. She was the victim of a hit and run accident some 25 years earlier that left her clinging onto life and when she survives it is only to discover that her memory has been wiped out and each day she wakes it is as if she is awaking anew. She has forgotten everything that happened to her the day before - in sleep all disappears.
She discovers the man with her is Ben, her husband, though she has no recollection of him. He explains everything to her, as he has to do each and every day before she stops panicking and calms down. He goes to work and she takes a call from a doctor who tells her to go to her wardrobe and take out a book she will find there. It is her journal that she writes each day on the recommendation of this psychiatrist who is trying to see if he can unlock the part of her brain which stores her memory.
Ben has taken care of her all this time, but Christina gradually begins to realise he is concealing things from her. She has been a published writer but has no recollection of her writing and when Dr Nash discovers this he sends her a copy of her book with a press release and photograph taken when the book was published. It is clear from this photo that Christina was pregnant at the time and yet she has no recollection of having a child. When she challenges Ben, he tells her that their son Adam was killed in Afghanistan and he did not want to tell her as it would distress her. Just imagine finding out something like this every single day with the grief as strong as it was at the start because your mind forgets it? This is the reason Ben gives for keeping this from her and it is a valid one, but the longer Christina is treated by Dr Nash and then tracks down an old friend, Claire, the more she realises that Ben is concealing other facts. But how can she challenge him when she cannot remember from one day to the next?
The more I read of this book the more I became intrigued by the ins and outs, the twists and turns, the 'what ifs' that kept popping up. Everyone tells her that Ben has always loved her and has stuck by her all these years, could not do enough for her so why does she find when she opens her journal one day that she has written 'Don't trust Ben'.
OK no more or else I will spoil it for you.
I understand that the film rights for this book have already been sold and I am not surprised as the story builds to a climax that had me on the edge of my seat. As I read it I could see the scenes of the film in my mind's eye and could imagine how it would be done.
S J Watson was born in the Midlands and worked in the NHS for a number of years. In 2009 Watson was accepted into the First Faber Academy 'Writing a Novel' course, a programme that covers all aspects of the novel writing process. Before I go to Sleep is the result. Obviously, if you have not got a novel in you attending a course like this won't turn you into a best seller overnight but it seems to have worked for this author who has produced a stunning and brilliant debut novel. It deserves to shoot onto the best seller lists and when I closed it up, quite breathless and thinking WOW at the end, I felt that Tess Gerritsen has just about got it right.....