I remember reading about this book on someone’s blog a long time ago. By chance I found it at a thrift store in pretty much brand new condition, so I decided to give it a go, even though I normally do not go for thrillers (lately, however, it seems like I have)! I ended up really liking it, though I do have a few gripes.
If you’ve seen the movies 50 First Dates or Memento, this book is like a mixture of the two, premise-wise. Before I Go To Sleep is about Christine Lucas, a woman who has a type of amnesia where she only remembers about 24 hours’ worth of events before they are forgotten. In essence, every day with a blank slate for life — she doesn’t know who she is, where she is, who the people around her are, and so on.
One day, Christine is visited by Dr. Nash, who tells her he has been meeting her in secret from her husband for weeks, trying to work on her memory problem. Of course, Christina has no recollection of ever meeting Dr. Nash but he gives her a journal and tells her to read it. It’s her journal, which she has been keeping for several weeks, with Dr. Nash calling every morning to remind her that she has a journal and where she has hidden it in her house. The journal is where Christine writes down bits and pieces of her history that she is able to remember or from other people telling her. Slowly, Christina begins to piece together the story of her life … but there is something odd about the stories she’s being told about her life. Did she really lose her memory in a car accident, or did something more sinister happen to her? Why did she and her husband never have children? Why has her best friend completely broken contact with her?
So I read some people are put off by this book before they even read it because the amnesia presented in this book is fake. Which is true. I did a bit of poking around on the Internet and indeed, there is no such condition as Christine’s that is in existence (which is the same condition presented in 50 First Dates, where they gave the false condition a false name, Goldman’s Syndrome. The amnesia in Memento is real though — great movie by the way, definitely check it out). I can understand why the fake condition would bother someone, I really do. It sounds too wild to be true. If you don’t want to read it because it sounds just too impossible, I think I understand your rationale. Myself, I was ok with the fake condition being the premise of the novel. It didn’t really bother me, and made for good drama in my eyes, even though I knew no such amnesia exists.
I found it very hard to put down this book. Once I began reading, I couldn’t stop. I had to find out the truth of what happened to Christine as much as Christine needed to know the truth as well. One of the fun things about thrillers/mysteries is coming up with a bunch of ideas of what the answer to the mystery is. I had several and it was fun bouncing back and forth between my own theories of what will be revealed at the end of the novel, finding passages in the book to support one idea or another.
It’s definitely psychological as well. I know I am reading Christine’s diary, and many a time, I catch myself wondering how reliable Christine really is. If was unreliable at all, it wouldn’t be her fault though. She can’t remember yesterday or any day before that, so I did wonder how much I can trust what she is writing in her diary. Christine even wonders herself, at a few points during the story, if she can trust her own diary and what she has written in it. It led her to sometimes doubt herself and her entire reality, and she wondered who she was before she became this way. I like how the book explores memory and how important it is to a person’s identity and being. Without memory, who are we? For Christine, she feels like no one, like nothing, without her memories, and desperately wants to remember them.
With all that said and done, I did have a few of complaints with this book. Firstly, the vast majority of this novel is written in diary format, but Christine did not feel like she was writing a diary at all. It felt like … well, like a novel. The writing felt kind of monotonous, or robot-like, and kind of choppy too, as there were many short sentences in succession. It didn’t feel very personal the way diaries sometimes do. There were many things written in a way that I seriously doubt would be written by someone writing a diary. I understand for the purpose of the book, dialogue was written, but diary-writing people rarely include such descriptive dialogue like: “Where’s Adam?” I said. The words came out in a gasp. “Where is he?” Ben’s expression changed. Surprise? Or shock? He swallowed. “Tell me!” I said.” I mean, who writes like that in their diary? I don’t know about you, but when I used to keep one, I would never have been so descriptive as to say I gasped the words out and detailing my listener’s facial expressions and the fact he swallowed before I screamed the next thing. It read like a book. Which, I know, it is, but it should have read more like the diary it claimed to be.
My last gripe is the ending. It was fairly satisfactory but I felt it was quite predictable. It was one of my theories, and the one I brushed off because I thought that would be too obvious and cliche. Imagine my disappointment when I found out the idea I brushed off for being too predictable was actually the ending! I won’t delve too much into it for fear of spoiling the ending, but I thought I would just put it out there.
I don’t feel like my complaints ruined the book or anything though. I don’t think they are small issues, but I just remember being completely immersed into the story and staying up quite late reading it, always saying, one more chapter, one more chapter. To me, this book was clearly entertaining and I enjoyed reading it very much, which is why I opted to kind of overlook the flaws.