Before I Go To Sleep (Doubleday: 2011) A novel following a woman who wakes every day without any memory of the previous twenty-something years. She needs to piece together her life every day, only to start from the beginning again the next. The more she learns, the more she questions things, and the more suspicious she is of those close to her.
Some things just work. Paperclips. BBQ tongs. Really well written books. If it works, it works.
This book achieved pretty much everything it sets out to. And it does it for two big reasons. The first is the plot. It’s brilliant. It starts from an incredibly intriguing jumping off point, one that opens up a huge array of possibilities and has a truly fascinating quality. But it’s then worked hard. Watson doesn’t let the plot sit back for a breather for more than a few seconds at a time. It’s driven so energetically and expertly that it grows all the way through.
It does what Room didn’t – it continues to build and change and twist and turn from beginning to end. Watson makes sure it never gets contrived, never leaves you too disoriented, but never gets static or stale either.
I said two things, right? The second is the writing. It’s beautiful. It’s heartfelt and powerful and simple. And it floats by without intruding on the story. It looks like an easy thing to do. Simple things often do. Like a paper clip. Or BBQ tongs. They’re the kind of things you look at and think, yeah that’s pretty simple, must have been thought up of in about two seconds flat. But (and I’m sure you guys know this) they weren’t.
A hundred and fifty years ago, our poor sods of forefathers had to make do with attaching papers together with their spit (I assume). It took someone to have a moment of inspiration and follow it up with hard work. And it’s the same with this writing. It’s really and truly amazing, because it achieves so much with so little. The language is stripped back and simple, not a word wasted. But it tells the story powerfully. Easily.
That’s a pretty effective one-two combination. Brilliant story, brilliant writing. Knocks you back a little. It meant that I burned through this book pretty swiftly. First book in a long time that I found difficult to put down. I even stayed up past bed-time to continue reading it, making me a bit tired and grumpy the next day, only to do it again that night. Yeah, that’s right, I have a bed time and this book made me miss it. That’s an endorsement right there.
If I’m going to be picky (and I’m going to be) then there were one or two things missing. Firstly, I really didn’t like the main character. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I wasn’t meant to like her. But I think you’re supposed to like her, to sympathise and identify with her. But I didn’t.
Also, no doubt this is a page turner, but it fails to do much with the attention it demands other than entertain. It never introduces much that makes you go away and think (other than about what might happen next). It succeeds big time in grabbing you, but once grabbed, I think it misses a bit of an opportunity to do more with you. I put the book down breathless and thoroughly entertained, but not changed. It didn’t make me look at the world differently. Which is something that I want a book to do to me.
I guess that’s not what this is about though. Maybe if you inject a bit more something into it, you could spoil what’s brilliant. Maybe there’s only enough room in here for a great plot and great writing. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world.
This book entertains massively. It does amazing things in a very simple way. Asking it to do everything else too is probably a little unrealistic. Like expecting a paper clip to also make me a sandwich.
Go read this book. Soon.
Next week, a short story or two from a guy I’ve wanted to read for a long time.