Fresh Blood

Name: S. J. Watson

Title of Book: Before I Go To Sleep

'‘Before I Go To Sleep’ is a tour de force, a haunting tapestry woven from a single woman’s ragged thoughts...'

Every morning Christine Lucas wakes up she has to start her life all over again. Christine suffers from severe amnesia where her brain cannot retain any long term memories. Every time she sleeps deeply it is as if her mind is wiped clean and she has to learn her life all over again come the morning. Her fear starts when she wakes to find herself in bed with a stranger. Around the bathroom mirror she finds photographs of herself and the stranger she woke up with in different locations, different periods of her life. And why does she think she’s in her twenties when the face looking back at her is in advanced middle-age?

To make sense of her life, under the guidance of Dr. Nash, Christine begins a journal to make sense of her life. A journal she writes in daily and every day has to read as if reading a new book to make sense of her days. Is it just her amnesia that is making her paranoid about her husband, Ben or is there a reason for it? Is he telling her the truth every morning or are they lies? Why does he keep photographs hidden from her? As Christine depends on her journal more and more, memories (or are they false images?) begin to float to the surface and Christine finds that in her past is the reason why her life starts all over again with each brand new day.

‘Before I Go To Sleep’ is an astounding piece of work from a debut writer who writes with confidence as if he has already mastered his craft.

This is a marvellous novel, multi-layered with suffering, frustration and anxiety blended with suspense that forces you to read Christine’s plight. Watson brings to the fore a scenario which is all too real and yet incomprehensible to those not inflicted with this terribly debilitating condition – or can even begin to imagine the havoc it wreaks to the loved ones involved. But Watson brings a sense of humanity to Christine, a woman with faults who is at odds with her existence, who only craves to do one simple thing – to remember.

With harsh, sharp, jagged strokes, Watson paints a picture and slowly reveals with precision what can happen when something we take so much for granted is taken away from us. Without making us pity her or making Christine look pathetic he introduces us to a tormented woman who will affect you long after you have turned the final page.

There is only a small cast of characters populating this novel which seems to make Christine’s world even more insular and intense. I believe this novel is what is called in the theatre as a ‘two-hander’ – Christine and her journal drive the plot along, one depending on the other and neither sure that anything can be accepted as truth. Are the words Christine wrote and forgotten on previous days pure fiction? Is Christine’s journal just that or is it full of the ravings of a damaged mind?

‘Before I Go To Sleep’ is a tour de force, a haunting tapestry woven from a single woman’s ragged thoughts, desperate to make sense of the past she constantly forgets. This is writing of the highest calibre, a ‘Pinteresque’ novel where the silences are as intense as the dialogue is full of emotion. I dare anyone to finish this book and not only be amazed with the denouement but to be shaken by the mere thought of forgetting everything you stand for by simply closing your eyes at night.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
That’s a tricky question! I’m not conscious of genre when I’m writing, so I think I’m probably better of leaving it to other people to classify my writing! I’ve always been drawn to strongly plotted books, though, and I love a mystery. Before I Go to Sleep has been called a ‘literary thriller’, which I am very happy about.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
As a child I used to devour the classic crime writers – Agatha Christie of course, Conan Doyle. Now, though, I don’t tend to pick up a book and think ‘This is a crime novel’ or ’This is a thriller’ or whatever. I try to read as widely as possible, though again and again I’m drawn to real edge-of-the-seat page-turners. I love books that keep the reader guessing, where everything isn’t as it seems. I loved Shutter Island and was delighted when my book was compared to that, and also In the Cut by Susanna Moore. I’ve recently been rediscovering Ira Levin. But are those crime novels, though? I’m not sure…
3) You worked within the NHS for some years before embarking on your novel. What made you change careers so radically?
Just the realisation that I wasn’t happy, and never really would be until I’d given my writing a go. I’ve always wanted to write novels, for as long as I can remember. Having a book published has been the only real ambition I’ve ever had. I enjoyed my NHS work, and it gave me an income, but it didn’t make me truly happy.
4) ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ deals with amnesia. Is this an area that you dealt with during your clinical career and how much of it was research?
Most of it was research. I used to work with patients with neurological problems, and some of these would have had amnesia, but my work was to do with their balance and movement so I didn’t work with their memory problems directly. I did a lot of research during the writing of Before I Go to Sleep as I wanted not only to get the book sounding medically authentic, but also to do justice to the real people who suffer such a disabling condition.
5) Your first novel has a very small cast and is very driven by Christine’s journal. How easy or difficult was it for you as a new writer to sustain the suspense in your novel with so few characters?
I found having such a small number of characters really helped in creating the atmosphere of the book. I wanted to create the idea that Christine was almost imprisoned in this domestic situation, and I wanted both her and the reader to be constantly doubting who they could trust, and for that doubt to extend to pretty much everyone at times!
6) Amnesia is a very debilitating condition and you deal with it in a sensitive manner whilst being factual. Were you always aware of being truthful to amnesiacs whilst infusing your story with menace and suspense?
Totally. I was very aware of not wanting to trivialise such a horrible condition, of not wanting to use it just as a plot device. It affects a surprising number of people, particularly when you consider how many people suffer with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I wanted to be true to their experience. I’ve since spoken to someone whose mother suffers with severe amnesia and he told me he felt my book was very sympathetic and sensitive, so I’m relieved!
7) You were one of the first pupils at the Faber Academy. How much did the writing course help you to start your journey that culminated in this novel?
It was a huge help! The course exposed us to some amazing writers who we learned a great deal from, and it also helped in that we could workshop our early drafts and in doing so learn what worked and what didn’t. It can be hard to take criticism but I was determined to learn as much as I could on the course, and my coursemates’ enthusiasm for the opening chapter of Before I Go to Sleep really drove me on to make it as good as I could!
8) You have had a phenomenal response to your novel including a film of ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ which is now in production. Normally I ask authors what actors they would like to play their characters. You actually have your cast being put together! Is there any more information you could give our readers about the film?
Unfortunately no, not at this stage! Rowan Joffe, who is writing and directing the film, has completed a script and I think he’s now starting to think about casting. There are some very exciting names who he’s intending to approach first, but I don’t want to tempt fate by revealing who they are! But I’m tremendously excited, whoever they get! It’s a dream come true.
9) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
There are so many! I loved Michel Faber’s ‘Under the Skin’ and the twist in Sarah Waters’ ‘Fingersmith’ floored me completely – I didn’t see that coming! Then there’s ‘Fight Club’, of course. What I love is that perfect combination of ‘No! It can’t be!’ with, ‘Yes of course! That makes perfect sense!’ It’s difficult to get that right, but when it works it’s spectacular.
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
I thought ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ was pretty flawless. I love ‘Brighton Rock’. And ‘The Godfather’.
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I don’t really think about what genre a book falls into when I read – I just think about whether I’m enjoying it or not. But I’m a fan of novels that have a fantastic story, that keep the reader guessing and have an air of mystery or menace, and it’s true that a lot of those could be called crime fiction, so in that respect I’m a fan, yes. As for my favourite authors? I love complex, ambiguous characters in fiction, so one of my favourite crime writers would have to be Patricia Highsmith.
12) What is your favourite read crime of all time?
I hate answering this kind of question – it changes all the time. I like fiction based on truth, so If you’re forcing me to choose I’d go for “In Cold Blood”, or “Alias Grace”… this week at least!