Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Life on Paper

I have a confession to make. I’m a tough customer when it comes to books. So many “international best sellers” fail to hold my attention after the first chapter, and I end up rolling my eyes, putting the book down, and wondering, "Is it me?" Maybe I'm bored, restless. Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe that's why So and So Bestseller by So and So Bestselling Author failed to engage me. 

And then I come across a book that captivates me from beginning to end and I realize - the problem isn't with me, it's with them. 

That’s part of the reason I began this blog. I wanted to review and endorse only those books which took hold of me from beginning to end without letting go. (Some weeks I admit I’m scrambling!)

The book I am endorsing this week is one such book. The first page drew me in and I could not stop reading. I couldn't put the thing down. It was propped up in the kitchen while I cooked. It was in my bed with me late into the night and I carried it in my bag with me wherever I went.
That book is Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson, a thriller about a woman with amnesia.

It begins when the main character wakes up one morning. Watson writes:

The bedroom is strange. Unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am, how I came to be here. I don’t know how I’m going to get home.

Yes, I know what you’re saying—books about amnesia are a dime a dozen, and they always begin with someone waking up in an unfamiliar bed with a stranger. It's been the themes in movies, (Remember 50 First Dates?) and a number of novels and memoirs. (I even remember when I was writing for Harlequin that one of their dictates was, “No more amnesia novels.” Apparently they had been done to death. Or, maybe they were just putting people to sleep.) 

What makes this one so different? Why didn't I roll my eyes at this one? 

First of all, the quality of writing is superb. Here is an example of Watson's prose. It is the early scene where the main character is figuring out that she doesn’t know who she is or where she is:

I step back farther, until I feel cold tiles against my back. It is then I get the glimmer that I associate with memory. As my mind tries to settle on it, it flutters away, like ashes caught in a breeze, and I realize that in my life there is a then, a before, though before what I cannot say, and there is a now, there there is nothing between the two but long, silent emptiness that has led me here.

Also, is the speed at which the story progresses. Little by little, page by page, clues are disseminated in precise doses, and we readers are never quite sure who to trust. And it changes from chapter to chapter. Can we trust her doctor? Her husband? Her friends? The journal itself?

Christine, the main character, the amnesiac, is able to remember only what happens in a single day. As soon as she goes to sleep, her memory is wiped clean. (So, in that way, it is sort of like 50 First Dates!)  
With the help of a doctor, Christine writes down her experiences at the end of each day. To discover who she is, she reads and re-reads this growing volume every single morning. I will say no more for fear of spoiling, but we are never quite sure who we can trust.

As I read through the novel, I tried to imagine how it would feel if the only place your memories were stored was on paper. Or on a computer chip somewhere. That still has me pondering. 

I think of the late Oliver Sacks, whose work in memory and the mind was ground-breaking (or mind-mending). His book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a memoir about a man who forgets what is told to him only minutes after it is spoken. It, too, is a fascinating read.

I'm not surprised that Before I Go To Sleep has been made into a movie. I definitely plan to watch it. Here’s a link to the trailer. Maybe Harlequin was wrong. Maybe the reason that amnesia novels are so popular is that we simply like them. We like to be cast into some alternate reality sometimes, just to see what it feels like.

Before we go, remember, this blog’s for you, for all you tough customers who find yourself picking and weeding among the rows and rows and of bad

books out there. I understand, and feel your pain. But trust me on this one, you won't be disappointed.

NEXT TIME: My first music review. She’s called a “prairie mystic” and I own most of her albums. Carrie Newcomer’s new album A Permeable Life is worthy of my first music endorsement.

Head to her website and listen or watch the a few of her music videos. You have two weeks. 


  1. When I saw this title on the book rack at my local pharmacy, I thought it was intriguing. I'm trying not to buy books because I have too many I haven't read. But this is one I should read as I like this genre. Thanks for the recommendation, Linda.

  2. You are most welcome, Jim. I actually bought this one for my Kobo.

  3. Another fantastic blog, Linda. Love how you describe why this book compels you. Looking forward to your next review!

    1. Thanks Lina. I enjoy writing these, because I love making them so personal.

  4. I agree! I absolutely loved this book--thank you for letting me share the experience with you! Xxx