Before I Go To Sleep – Author S.J. Watson ~110,000 words, $25.99
The opening of this mystery/thriller leaves the reader without a reference point. You are just as disoriented as the main character, Christine. And, wow, is she ever disoriented. She has no idea who she woke up next to, how old she is, where she is, how to get out, or anything else. Immediately the reader is thrown into a world without recollection, without order, without solid ground. And it works. Much to the credit of debut author S.J. Watson. Watson spins one of the most chilling, nail-biting, stories of the decade. It keeps the reader guessing about identity, loyalty, and motives, deep into the book.
Many an author has arrived on the shelf with genderless initials to cover his/her identity. We all know about Joanne Rowling and Nora Roberts writes a detective series as J.D. Robb; and so on. This is especially important when a novel is written in first person feminine voice, as “Before I Go To Sleep” is written. Why? My experience in writer’s groups tells me that men do not like reading a female, first person story. And women resist first person female voice unless it was written by a woman. Strange? OK. So, I read the book without looking up S.J.’s gender in order to guess it by reading. I could not. The writing was so incredibly good that S.J.’s gender was as much a mystery as the bad-guy’s identity in the story. (Three quarters of the way through I gave up and searched the web. Be stronger than me. Jot your guesses as you read!) That alone is a testament to this writer’s craft.
The bad-guy part of the mystery is fairly easy to solve for a cynical mystery reader like me. I had it pegged with 50% certainty at the halfway point—but not without reservation until much later. What proved to be the fascinating points were several key events and clues that remained puzzling to very near the end. These elements, primarily issues of trust, were mind-blowing and complex right to the end. This book is longer than a lot of debuts, and yet felt shorter because the mental engagement would not allow me to put it down. There is something tense and unnerving on every page. In the hands of a lesser writer, the elements would drag dull after a few pages. But S.J. gives us passages like this at the halfway point (Christine in her own home):
I put the journal back where I had found it and went into the office, closing that door behind me, too. Moonlight shone through the window, casting a grayish glow around the room. I did not dare to switch on the light, could not risk Ben finding me in there, searching. He would ask me what I was looking for, and I had nothing to tell him, no reason to give for being there. There would be too many questions to answer.
S.J. Watson is a graduate of the Faber Academy, “Writing a Novel” course and with this novel propels himself as well as his academy to the top of the heap. No wonder the movie is already underway (starring Nicole Kidman). Don’t wait, buy the book and read it now!
Peace, Seeley James