Book Review – Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

An much darker-noir version of the movie 50 First Dates!

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An much darker-noir version of the movie 50 First Dates (if you’ve seen it!).

What would you do when your mind has turned against you, when the grey matter inside your head that differentiates truth from make-believe cannot be trusted?

TL:DR summary: Christine Lucas had a tragic accident which causes her memory to ‘reset’ every morning; effectively she cannot remember everything from a point in her childhood up to the night before she falls asleep. After waking up in bed one morning with the man she has been married for decades with, she is guided by somebody (no spoilers here) to find a journal, in which she discovers she has secretly been writing down the day-to-day events of the last few weeks. What secrets will she discover? Captain Obvious hint: some things aren’t what they seem (again, no spoilers!). The answer here is not so obvious! The guessing game and many twist and turns that Watson teases you with from time to time will send your head spinning.

To me a debut novel generally sets the tone for the kind of work the author would excel at, or at least give the reader a glimpse of the kind of themes they would be comfortable writing on. I’ve been searching for this book for awhile now, and after reading Watson’s second novel Second Life, I definitely had high hopes for this one. Notwithstanding the fact that this is slightly higher rated on goodreads.

This is a difficult book to put down. The narrative is fast spaced and unlike some psychological thrillers which take awhile to take off, this is akin to a bloodsucking leech that refuses to give up, gripping you from the very start and refusing to let you go until the very last word. I consider this book to be very special because of the blurred lines drawn between reality and fantasy. What would you do when your mind has turned against you, when the very thing inside your head that differentiates truth from make-believe cannot be trusted? Are you actually starting to go crazy and imagining things? I absolutely loved the premise – anything is possible.

The chronological narrative may seem messy at first. It goes like this: present day – 3 weeks before in a forward linear fashion up to almost present day – then present day moving forward inter spacing with the past few days! However, I feel that Watson has done a fantastic job of not driving the reader crazy with well spaced chapters with dates to help with the setting.

Rating: 5/5 (an absolute must-read for fans of psychological thrillers)

 

Book Review – Second Life by S.J. Watson

Do you live two lives? Have another side of you no one knows about? Do you compartmentalize a secret life from you significant other, children, close friends, etc?

Do you live two lives? Have another side of you no one knows about? Do you compartmentalize a secret life from you significant other, children, close friends, etc? Julia is one such person. In her public life, she’s married to a top surgeon, has a son, and lives a suburban English life in London. On the other side of the line she has a lot more on her plate than she has let on to anybody else. Having just got over the loss (brutal murder) of her sister Kate, she grapples with raising her teenage son and at the same time privately investigating the cause of her sister’s murder.

The most exciting part of this book comes after the one-third mark. Although the beginning was a tad slow, it was interesting enough not to make the whole process overly weary. Right after I learn about Julia’s “other life” is when things start getting interesting. You see, this all unravels when she starts investigating her sister’s murder, driving her deeper and deeper into a pit she is unable to climb out of. Ina sadistic way, a part of me – actually most part of me, really wanted her to go down that slide, just to find out what would come out of it.

Although there are places where I find her actions somewhat extraordinary, Watson tries to explain through Julia’s POV in her stream-of-consciousness ramblings – it also helps that we learn of her past alcohol addiction and panic attacks, and later on – her drug history. This certainly helped me feel more relatable to her and her actions. Perhaps if you’re struggling with a married with kids scenario, Julia is presenting to you a solution to that problem, together with all the justifications you would probably have made in your head.

Of course, in true psychological thriller style, the plot twists at the end were nothing short of a blast. Who really killer her sister? Is her husband who he says he is? Is her relationship with her son all that straightforward? You’ll have to read it like I did, to find out. My only gripe here is that I found the ending a little complex to understand, underneath the tangled web of relationships. A few times I went: Who is related to who again?

Rating: 4.75/5 (slow start but picks up good momentum less than halfway through, unexpected plot twists, dramatic ending albeit slightly complex.