I had to finish reading this book before I went to sleep. I was afraid I would wake up and not remember a thing and would have to start all over again. I haven’t been this engrossed in a book for a long time. I missed my stop, I forgot to pay my bill at the café (I did return today to settle it and said I suffer from temporary memory loss), I bumped into things while read-walking.
It’s no wonder this book sold five hundred gabizzillion copies and translation rights everywhere including Atlantis and Mars, as it is fantastic and all it asks from you in return is to suspend your disbelief for about 300 pages. Seems like a small price to pay.
If you have been in a coma this past year and have no idea what ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ is about, let me recap it for you: Just like in Memento, the main character suffers from anterograde amnesia but to spice things up she also has regular amnesia. Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is, how she got there, and why she seems to have a body of a middle aged woman, when she vaguely remembers being in her early twenties before she went to bed. The past twenty years of her life are completely gone from her memory and everything before also seems hazy. Yes, S.J. Watson is pushing it a little but you won’t have much time to meditate over the probability of the premise because the ride begins on page one and doesn’t stop until you close the book. It’s easy to open your novel with a character waking up with no recollection of who they are or how they got where they are, it guarantees to get everyone hooked, but the trick then is to keep the tension and even pace. This is where ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ is most successful.
The biggest part of the book is made of Christine’s journal, which she keeps to remind herself every morning who she is and what has happened to her before. I could be nit-picky and say that if I suffered from anterograde amnesia and had to read my whole bloody diary every morning and then write what has happened before going to bed, I’d try to be succinct. Otherwise I’d soon end up spending all my days reading about my past and what I had for dinner, and what the weather was like and what I was wearing.
But, of course it’s a book , I didn’t actually want to read bullet points, I wanted a narrative. Additionally, Christine is a writer by vocation, so I can forgive her for getting carried away, describing the wind and sand texture.
Memory is an extraordinary thing and I almost broke my brain imagining not having it. As I was reading the book I was adding new facts to those I already knew. I was building up the story in my head and I was making progress. To poor Christine every chapter was the first chapter. Every ten to twenty pages she was back to square one and I’d like congratulate Watson on doing repetitions without sounding repetitive. I’m also glad that he at least made an attempt to address the psychological impact such a condition might have on a person. Waking up in a body that’s decades older than you remember your body to be is pretty much waking up in somebody else’s body – having that happen to you once might undo you, I can’t even imagine having that happen every single day.
Remember that romantic comedy – 50 First Dates? It was neither romantic, nor funny. It was plain scary. She managed to have two children (or one, or three, I don’t remember)! Why would you do to someone who can’t remember what happened to them for the past decade? If I woke up one day, suddenly nine months pregnant, and some dude was telling me we were married and in love and that’s our baby, I’d say: hell no, perv! When I went to bed I was not pregnant. The aliens must’ve abducted me and impregnated me with their alien baby. I’d probably have a major freak-out and a miscarriage to boot.
Also, think about it. Picture yourself waking up in a stranger’s body in a stranger’s house. That would be pretty stressful, even if someone explained everything to you, it’s safe to say you’d be on the edge the whole day, your heart beating fast, diarrhea, cramps, chest pain. And now imagine that happening every day. You might not remember it but your body would, you’d be a wreck before you turn 40.
I thought all that while I was reading and then I thought: but after all, we are all amnesiacs. We don’t remember much from before the age of 3 (not that much afterwards). We look at our early photos and have no recollection of those photos being taken. We are told what we liked and how we behaved and we have no way of verifying that information. Even all those events from our life – how many of the thousands of days we lived we truly remember? We remember mostly the things we often talk about, the thing we wrote down in our journals or blogs and then reread. But the truth is we don’t remember the actual events, we remember just our descriptions of them, some story we told and retold our brain until we arrived at the version we were satisfied with. So let’s not fool ourselves that, we, unlike Christine, can actually rely on our memories.