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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas