This is part 2 of my review of S. J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. In this section I will be reviewing Part 2: The Journal of Christine Lucas.
The journal begins with a brief summary of what the reader already knows, presumably to remind her every time she reads it. The first journal entry details her scepticism of the treatment and whether it will work, as well as carrying on her confusion, which the novel does very consistently and very well. Watson never misses a beat, making sure the reader knows when Christine remembers the journal herself, etc. While to some readers this may seem tedious, it assists in the understanding of just how brutal her condition is and so is a very clever narrative technique which I personally admire. She begins to remember vague shapes and colours in her head relating to places and events, showing that her mind is trying, yet clutching at straws at the same time. She quickly begins to remember older memories, like her father revealing his illness to her mother, however it is clear that more recent memories are harder for her to obtain. There is little consistency with when she remembers things and, because we are not told if she has ever remembered any of this before she began writing it down, the reader questions Watson’s knowledge of these kinds of mental problems and whether he knows how long treatment should take. For Christine, the treatment appears to work very quickly, especially as her journal is only set over 2 weeks. This could suggest that the treatment has simply worked wonders on her, yet also brings the legitimacy of her illness into question. However, her speedy recovery process does have the reader question Ben’s instincts and why he stopped her from being given any more treatment, as clearly the more modern treatments actually work.
When Ben gives Christine the account of their personal history, he appears to know every detail of how they met and what they did together, yet there are gaps in his story surrounding their life together. He knows little about friends and house-mates from the time, making the reader question what he really knows and if he is avoiding telling her certain things. Then of course, he tells her that she was hit by a car which was what caused her accident. While accidents like this can trigger neural problems, they often do not cause such strong amnesia, as this usually stems from some form of psychological damage. However, Watson will know that the readership will not consider that until much later. Because of this, the author makes the reader overlook the little details which Ben misses out, yet he is almost too deliberately setting Ben to be the bad husband. In one way, it makes reading the novel interesting, as you change your mind about him constantly yet, from other works of literature, the author appearing to make Ben the obvious evil character makes the reader actually question Dr. Nash. This is due to Ben being a realistic character, coming home moody and not always wanting to do everything their partner wants to do, and getting fed up with repeating everything to her everyday, which is completely natural. On the other hand, we have Nash who is young, attractive, and seemingly lovely. He does all he can for Christine and nothing less, making the reader like him, yet making him less personable, and therefore harder to trust all the time.
The inclusion of highly realistic marriage situations make the book so much more believable. Christine shows herself rejecting sex from Ben, as she feels she barely knows him, yet she then feels guilty and wonders if she does this to him every night and how he manages to cope with a woman like her around all the time. She also has the awkward moments when she is enjoying Nash’s company a little too much, yet this again is perfectly natural. To me, if Watson is writing a book where the woman who forgets everything only remembers being in her late teens, early twenties, then it actually makes perfect sense for her not wanting to have sex with her husband who, she feels is twice her age, and to have a crush on the young doctor who is taking care of her so well.
When Nash takes her to the old house Christine used to live in, she remembers her husband for the first time, giving legitimacy to his story finally and putting some of the reader’s faith in him. She remembers a sexual encounter and, when she describes things like his penis, the humour added into the memory really makes Ben seem trustworthy, as it is those little details that count, no matter how ridiculous; if she cannot remember the little details, he may as well have not existed. Watson conveys this memory very truthfully and powerfully with lighter aspects involved in the deeper realisation that she has finally remembered her husband. Her deciding to make love to him that night, is of course believable and very heart warming, as the reader is shown her love for Ben regardless of not having full memories. She of course then has the confusing memory of Ben having to leave to catch a train, which is not explained in this part. This once again is a technique used to plant the seed of doubt back in the reader’s brain. Her memories of her best friend Claire are a great addition to the book, as they really show that she is progressing, regardless of Ben keeping certain people from her. After this, she begins to have memories from the night she lost her memory; she remembers being attacked in a hotel room, yet the only name she can connect to the incident is Ed, which we learn is Dr. Nash’s first name. This fact could be used to put doubt in Nash as a character, as he has appeared more helpful than any usual doctor would, however she then realises that he is indeed too young to have been her attacker and so discards the idea immediately.
Towards the end of Part 2, she has remembered her friend, her husband, her son (although she is told he is dead), and has connected as much of her life back together as she can. She has realised that her husband kept all the horrible details of her life from her, including the fact that he once divorced her, so that she would not have to go through the pain of it, and he the pain of seeing her in pain. The book at this stage appears to be slightly disappointing, considering it is labelled a crime thriller, and not much thrilling stuff has happened within the book.
To be continued…