Amnesia is a tantalising device in fiction, offering the astute storyteller a toolbox of narrative trapdoors, intrigues and devices. While memory loss has been ploughed extensively in thrillers, where this debut novel excels is its attention to detail.
An NHS audiologist by trade, SJ Watson roots his story in the mundane details of domestic life which render amnesia more than a mere plot device, exploring both the mind’s beguiling idiosyncrasies, and the creative opportunities they offer. Having topped bestseller lists both sides of the Atlantic, the 2011 novel is now enjoying a fresh GCC print run ahead of a cinema remake, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.
Christian Lucas is a 47-year-old woman who wakes every day remembering little of the preceding decades, and nothing before the horrific episode which destroyed her ability to store new memories for more than a day. She begins each morning discovering her home and husband as if for the first time, painfully piecing her biography together, before going to bed and starting again.
Things start to change when she starts keeping a journal, of which much of the novel is a reproduction. While the premise that our protagonist rereads every proceeding page each morning starts to drag past the 200th page, it’s the discrepancies between the entries where the narrative intrigue lies. Despite a sense that things are not as they seem, events only start to truly unravel in the second half of the book. By then, so rooted are we in our heroine’s travails that a few loose ends, and the slightly hurried, Hollywood-baiting ending, can be forgiven.
Before I Go to Sleep took a potentially hackneyed conceit and injected it with a considered amount of research, a mature voice and self-control which helped the novel appeal to thousands of readers who would never normally go near the genre.