Friday, March 29, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner: Oldies But Goodies {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Oldies But Goodies

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

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

by Karen S. Wiesner

After I finished my last writing reference, I'd started to hear about a trend going around writing circles. In direct opposition of everything I'd ever taught about going deep with characters, writers were told not to include more than basic information about main characters, allowing readers to fill in the blanks with their own details and thereby making the characters whatever they want them to be.

I don't believe character development can be fluid enough to allow something like that without compromising everything vital in a story. Individual character choices directly influence outcomes. If a character isn't well defined, motives and purposes are constantly in question as well as in flux. Ultimately, characters that have no impact on readers make for a quickly forgotten story.

Personally, I want a good balance of character and plot development the stories I'm willing to invest myself in, and I'm not getting it with most of the new stuff coming out. So I've been re-reading the books that have made it onto my keeper shelves in the past. To that end, here's another "oldies but goodies" review.

Before I Go To Sleep, published in 2011, was written by a then brand new author, S. J. (Steven Johnson) Watson, an audiologist for National Health Service, where he wrote the novel between shifts. The psychological thriller shot to the top of the bestseller lists and was made into a film in 2014 by Ridley Scott.

Of a technicality, there's nothing supernatural about this book enough to warrant it being reviewed on the Alien Romances Blog where the focus is "science fiction romance, futuristic, or paranormal romances in which at least one protagonist is an alien or of alien ancestry". However, there's something distinctly eerie about this tale--namely, the condition the main character Christine Lucas's is suffering from. Anterograde amnesia is absolutely chilling to me. It's very much as if an alien comes each night while the victim goes to sleep and steals everything he or she knows, feels, has experienced, and lived. I can't imagine anything else that could be worse. Good and bad memories, the myriad emotions associated with them, our areas of individual expertise and passions, and the experiences that make up the tapestry of our lives are vital to who and what we are. Without them, we're little more than lost--to everyone and everything. Imagine not knowing who you are, who you love, who loves you, what you've done, whether you're a good person, a bad, or something in-between. That, to me, is the very definition of horror.

In this novel, Christine wakes up every day of her life a blank slate and has to reconstruct her own identity--either through the one who tells her he's her husband, her son, her journal, or the doctor who's secretly helping her recover her memory. What makes this story so tense and alarming is that, in a situation like this, a person is forced to trust evidence that can so easily be manufactured as well as relying on the ones around them--despite the uncertainty that's constantly in the back of the mind. Do these individuals really know me, care about me, have my best interests at heart? Should I trust anything they say or do?

The first time I read this book long years ago, I gulped it like I was so hungry, I couldn't get enough. I'd never encountered anything like this before, didn't know the first thing about anterograde amnesia, and it was hard to imagine that it was something that could actually happen to someone. Frankly, it blew my mind. I also watched the movie, which was a close rendition of the story in the book, but I actually enjoyed it more, I think, because Nicole Kidman put in such a good performance as a frail but determined woman who's walking a short tightrope from one day to the next.

The second read recently wasn't quite as positively radical. This time around, I noticed that I found the writing style annoying and, cruel as it seems, it was very hard to actually like the heroine. Compassion, given her situation, was a given, but she acted in a way that set me on edge. The best way to say this is, I just would not have acted the way she did, if I was in that situation. Or at least I don't think I would. I hope to never know for sure. In any case, this story is a nail-biter and a page-turner that's very unique even in a sea of other psychologic thrillers. It's definitely worth a read, or a re-read.

Next week, I'll review another Oldie But Goodie you might find worth another read, too.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

No comments:

Post a Comment