Read this book before it’s made into a big-screen thriller

SJ Watson’s debut is chilling in print and jangles the nerves


by S. J. Watson



If Alfred Hitchcock was still around he would have been right on to this superlative literary thriller and optioned it for a movie before Richard and Judy had finished the opening chapter.

As it is, the movie rights to Before I Go To Sleep have been snapped up by Ridley Scott’s production outfit with Rowan Joffe in the frame to direct.

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So it’s the perfect time to grab a copy of the paperback and acquaint yourself with one of the edgiest, most compulsive thrillers from a debut novelist.

Since its original publication in hardback last year, Watson, a former health worker and a graduate of the Faber writing academy as recently as 2009, has scooped both the Crime Writers’ Association’s coveted Debut Dagger Award and also the Thriller of the Year at the Galaxy Books Awards...oh, and it’s just been selected as a Richard and Judy recommended book (but don’t let that put you off, this is most definitely a literary thriller).

So, what’s all the fuss about?

Before I Go To Sleep is one of those books that will have you declining invitations so you can race home to read it, leaving you in a quandary about whether to ration the last precious pages, or plough on through to discover if your theories are correct.

For a thriller that jangles the nerves as thoroughly as Before I Go To Sleep does, the setting is claustrophobically domestic.

We are introduced to central figure Christine as she begins a morning ritual: awakening next to a stranger, feeling her way into an unfamilar bathroom to be confronted with fragments of her life pasted onto the walls in snapshots and Post-It notes.


Christine has suffered a head trauma and each day her memory reverts to zero; every day for her begins in the same bleak place and only the stranger she wakes up next to—her husband—can help calm her and run her briskly through the who/what/when and how of her existence to date.

So far, so creepy.

It’s with the arrival of a doctor into her life that Christine begins to keep a secret journal on his recommendation and retrieve more and more of what has actually gone before. Was she really injured in an accident? Where is her child? Why is her husband so reluctant to help her piece together her past and contact former friends?

As the novel begins to revolve around Christine’s journal, it becomes clear that her past is a lot more complex than the version doled out to her by her husband—but are we being manipulated by a deluded narrator who is suffering brain damage or is she being manipulated by someone from her past?

As the layers are peeled back from their marriage we learn more of the lives of Christine and Ben, her husband, and the question of who is bad and who is mad hangs increasingly heavy.

Inevitably, there is a denouement and it’s just the right balance of being believable but not, for me anyway, predictable.

A stunning debut novel, I can’t wait to see what Watson has waiting for us next. Buy it, read it, love it—but prepare to lose a little sleep because it is hard to put down.

n Mention this review at England’s Lane Books in Belsize Park or West End Lane Books in West Hampstead and receive a 20 per cent discount.