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S.J. Watson's 'Before I Go to Sleep' an intense thriller

| Sunday, July 10, 2011

The fragility of memories has been a key element in some intriguing novels, such as those by Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane, and movies, from the noir "Memento" to the rom-com "50 First Dates."

British author S.J. Watson tackles the power of memories in his mesmerizing debut "Before I Go to Sleep." Watson adds an extra spin — not only does Christine Lucas not remember her past, but her lack of memory has robbed her of any feelings. Concerning William Faulkner's quote "Between grief and nothing, I will take grief," Christine would gladly assume grief to be able to feel any emotion except the fear that she has no idea who she is. Or who she can trust.

Each day, Christine wakes up not knowing who she is or who the man is next to her. She believes she is 27 years old, but beyond that she has no immediate clue to her past. Each day she is stunned to see in the mirror the face of a 47-year-old and to learn that she has been married for 22 years to Ben. And each morning, before he leaves for work as a teacher, Ben explains to Christine that she lost her memory 20 years before in an accident.

Or did she?

Because shortly after Ben leaves each day, Christine receives a phone call from Dr. Nash, a neurologist. He tells Christine where to find the journal she keeps so she can read about the bits of memory that have returned but are wiped out when she sleeps. But Ben doesn't know that she is working with Dr. Nash. And the journal includes a chilling reminder: "Don't trust Ben."

Watson bends his intense psychological thriller in myriad ways, making the reader simultaneously empathize and doubt each character. Ben appears to be a devoted husband; Dr. Nash appears to be a compassionate physician; Christine appears not to know of her past.

Each snippet of Christine's memory appears to be a victory and a setback. Recovering her memory may be more frightening than she imagines. At each turn, clues to Christine's past and present spin in different directions, leading to a shocking finale.

"Before I Go to Sleep" was the result of a writing workshop in Britain and was a best-seller in Europe where it was released last year. The novel is just now making its American debut. The movie version is scheduled to start filming later this year, with Rowan Joffe directing and Ridley Scott producing.

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