Doubleday £12.99

Before I Go to Sleep, By S J Watson

Dear diary: Is that a stranger in my bed, or have I lost my memory (again!)?

Before I Go to Sleep is the first novel by S J Watson, a former NHS worker who earned a place on the Faber Academy's "Writing a Novel"' course.

He may be unknown, at least for the moment, but his debut has already attracted well-known admirers. Ridley Scott bagged the film rights and has hired Rowan Joffe to direct. Lionel Shriver, Dennis Lehane and Sophie Hannah all give excellent blurb, as does Tess Gerritsen, who gushes: "Quite simply the best debut I've ever read."

Setting aside Gerritsen's apparent reservations about Dubliners, Catch-22 and The Catcher in the Rye, these endorsements propose Before I Go to Sleep as a blend of the popular and the literary. And so it proves, although Watson's commercial instincts are keener than his prose. The high concept goes like this: every morning Christine wakes up in an unfamiliar bed beside an unfamiliar man. Spotting his wedding ring, she assumes she got drunk the night before and surrendered to adulterous temptation. Christine thinks like a twenty-something party girl, so it comes as a shock when she looks in a mirror and sees a 47-year-old woman staring back.

But she has not been on a two-decade bender. Instead, since a vaguely defined accident, she has had a faulty memory that deletes her history every 24 hours. The strange man in the bed introduces himself as Ben, her husband of 20 years. It is the first of many "revelations" Christine experiences on a daily basis: she has written a novel; given birth to a son, who was killed in Afghanistan; and she had an affair, which led to her accident. Guiding Christine through the fog is Dr Edmund Nash, a neuropsychologist. Having introduced himself each morning, he tells Christine to read her journal. Its first words are: "Don't trust Ben".

Readers have seen this sort of thing before. Offbeat mental states doubling as ingenious narrative devices are all the rage in contemporary cinema: Memento, Groundhog Day, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the Japanese film Yogen (remade as Premonition). The popularity of the conceit is appropriate given that most of the above are concerned with repetition. These vivid merry-go-rounds only stop spinning when some original sin is uncovered.

Watson's take on the material is clever, convincing and moreish. Christine's life is mundane, but filled with tantalising possibilities: the early chapters fly by as you wonder exactly who to trust. The fun comes from spotting the plot holes that Watson later exploits for all they're worth. Why is Ben untrustworthy? Is Dr Nash's interest purely professional? And where are the social services, or Christine's friends and relations?

Christine's journal is a smart way to dish out clues, and to provide another layer of uncertainty that cracks like an egg: can she even believe the evidence of her own pen? But as the plot quickens, the need to have Christine reading her way to enlightenment slackens the tension. In the final, violent climax, a character has to dash out for champagne and then conveniently jump into a shower, simply to allow Christine the time to excavate vital information.

The ending feels hurried; a sentimental postscript to the meticulously plotted main event. But these are minor gripes. Before I Go to Sleep is an enjoyable and impressive first novel. Like the best of its thematic predecessors, it is also an affecting moral allegory: don't forget your loved ones. Or else.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us