Before I Go to Sleepby S. J. Watson
S. J. Watson makes his powerful debut with this compelling, fast-paced psychological thriller, reminiscent of Shutter Island and Memento, in which an amnesiac who, following a mysterious accident, cannot remember her past or form new memories, desperately tries to uncover the truth about who she isand who she can trust.See more details below
S. J. Watson makes his powerful debut with this compelling, fast-paced psychological thriller, reminiscent of Shutter Island and Memento, in which an amnesiac who, following a mysterious accident, cannot remember her past or form new memories, desperately tries to uncover the truth about who she isand who she can trust.
“Imagine drifting off every night knowing that your memories will be wiped away by morning. That’s the fate of Christine Lucas, whose bewildering internal world is rendered with chilling intimacy in this debut literary thriller. . . . You’ll stay up late reading until you know.”
- Random House Export
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Read an Excerpt
Before I Go To SleepA Novel
By S.J. Watson
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2011 S.J. Watson
All right reserved.
Tod a y
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
I have spent the night here. I was woken by a woman's voice
at first I thought she was in bed with me, but then realized she was
reading the news and I was hearing a radio alarmand when I
opened my eyes found myself here. In this room I do not
My eyes adjust and I look around in the near-dark. A dressing
gown hangs off the back of the closet doorsuitable for a woman,
but for one much older than I amand some dark-colored
trousers are folded neatly over the back of a chair at the dressing table,
but I can make out little else. The alarm clock looks complicated,
but I find a button and manage to silence it.
It is then that I hear a juddering intake of breath behind me
and realize I am not alone. I turn around. I see an expanse of skin
and dark hair, flecked with white. A man. He has his left arm
outside the covers and there is a gold band on the third finger of the
hand. I suppress a groan. So this one is not only old and gray, I think,
but also married. Not only have I screwed a married man, but I have done so
in what I am guessing is his home, in the bed he must usually share with his
wife. I lie back to gather myself. I ought to be ashamed.
I wonder where the wife is. Do I need to worry about her arriving
back at any moment? I imagine her standing at the other side
of the room, screaming, calling me a slut. A Medusa. A mass of
snakes. I wonder how I will defend myself, if she does appear. The
guy in the bed does not seem concerned, though. He has turned
over and snores on.
I lie as still as possible. Usually I can remember how I get into
situations like this, but not today. There must have been a party,
or a trip to a bar or a club. I must have been pretty wasted. Wasted
enough that I don't remember anything at all. Wasted enough to
have gone home with a man with a wedding ring and hairs on his
I fold back the covers as gently as I can and sit on the edge of
the bed. First, I need to use the bathroom. I ignore the slippers at
my feetafter all, fucking the husband is one thing, but I could
never wear another woman's shoesand creep barefoot onto
the landing. I am aware of my nakedness, fearful of choosing the
wrong door, of stumbling in on a lodger, a teenage son. Relieved, I
see the bathroom door is ajar and go in, locking it behind me.
I sit, use the toilet, then flush it and turn to wash my hands. I
reach for the soap, but something is wrong. At first I can't work out
what it is, but then I see it. The hand gripping the soap does not
look like mine. Its skin is wrinkled, the nails are unpolished and
bitten to the quick and, like that of the man in the bed I have just
left, the third finger wears a plain gold wedding ring.
I stare for a moment, then wriggle my fingers. The fingers of
the hand holding the soap move also. I gasp, and the soap thuds
into the sink. I look up at the mirror.
The face I see looking back at me is not my own. The hair has
no volume and is cut much shorter than I wear it; the skin on the
cheeks and under the chin sags; the lips are thin; the mouth turned
down. I cry out, a wordless gasp that would turn into a shriek of
shock were I to let it, and then notice the eyes. The skin around
them is lined, yes, but despite everything else, I can see that they
are mine. The person in the mirror is me, but I am twenty years
too old. Twenty-five. More.
This isn't possible. I begin to shake and grip the edge of the
sink. Another scream begins to rise in my chest and this one
erupts as a strangled gasp. I step back, away from the mirror, and
it is then that I see them. Photographs. Taped to the wall, to the
mirror itself. Pictures, interspersed with yellow pieces of gummed
paper, felt-tipped notes, damp and curling.
I choose one at random. Christine, it says, and an arrow points
to a photograph of methis new me, this old mein which I am
sitting on a bench on the side of a quay, next to a man. The name
seems familiar, but only distantly so, as if I am having to make
an effort to believe that it is mine. In the photograph we are both
smiling at the camera, holding hands. He is handsome, attractive,
and when I look closely, I can see that it is the same man I slept
with, the one I left in the bed. The word Ben is written beneath it,
and next to it, Your husband.
I gasp, and rip it off the wall. No, I think. No! It cannot be . . . I
scan the rest of the pictures. They are all of me, and him. In one
I am wearing an ugly dress and unwrapping a present, in another
both of us wear matching weatherproof jackets and stand in front
of a waterfall as a small dog sniffs at our feet. Next to it is a picture
of me sitting beside him, sipping a glass of orange juice, wearing
the dressing gown I have seen in the bedroom next door.
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, and there is nothing between
the two but a long, silent emptiness that has led me here, to
me and him, in this house.
I go back into the bedroom. I still have the picture in my
handthe one of me and the man I had woken up withand I
hold it in front of me.
"What's going on?" I say. I am screaming; tears run down my
face. The man is sitting up in bed, his eyes half-closed. "Who are
"I'm your husband," he says. His face is sleepy, without a trace
of annoyance. He does not look at my naked body. "We've been
married for years."
"What do you mean?" I say. I want to run, but there is
nowhere to go. " 'Married for years'? What do you mean?"
He stands up. "Here," he says, and passes me the dressing gown,
waiting while I put it on. He is wearing pajama trousers that are too
big for him, a white T-shirt. He reminds me of my father.
"We got married in 1985," he says. "Twenty-two years ago.
"What?" I feel the blood drain from my face, the room begin
to spin. A clock ticks somewhere in the house, and it sounds as loud
as a hammer. "But?" He takes a step toward me. "How?"
"Christine, you're forty-seven now," he says. I look at him, this
stranger who is smiling at me. I don't want to believe him, don't
want to even hear what he is saying, but he carries on. "You had
an accident," he says. "A bad accident. You suffered head injuries.
You have problems remembering things."
"What things?" I say, meaning, surely not the last twenty-five years?
He steps toward me again, approaching me as if I am a
frightened animal. "Everything," he says. "Sometimes starting from
your early twenties. Sometimes even earlier than that."
My mind spins, whirring with dates and ages. I don't want to
ask, but know that I must. "When . . . when was my accident?"
He looks at me, and his face is a mixture of compassion and
"When you were twenty-nine . . ."
I close my eyes. Even as my mind tries to reject this information
I know, somewhere, that it is true. I hear myself start to cry
again, and as I do so this man, this Ben, comes over to where I
stand in the doorway. I feel his presence next to me, do not move
as he puts his arms around my waist, do not resist as he pulls me
into him. He holds me. Together we rock gently, and I realize the
motion feels familiar somehow. It makes me feel better.
"I love you, Christine," he says, and though I know I am
supposed to say that I love him too, I don't. I say nothing. How can I
love him? He is a stranger. Nothing makes sense. I want to know
so many things. How I got here, how I manage to survive. But I
don't know how to ask.
"I'm scared," I say.
"I know," he replies. "I know. But don't worry, Chris. I'll look
after you. I'll always look after you. You'll be fine. Trust me."
. . .
He says he will show me around the house. I feel calmer. I
have put on a pair of panties and an old T-shirt that he gave me,
then puts the robe over my shoulders. We go out onto the landing.
"You've seen the bathroom," he says, opening the door next to it.
"This is the office."
There is a glass desk with what I guess must be a computer,
though it looks ridiculously small, almost like a toy. Next to it is
a filing cabinet in gunmetal gray, above it a wall planner. All is
neat, orderly. "I work in there, now and then," he says, closing the
door. We cross the landing and he opens another door. A bed, a
dressing table, more closets. It looks almost identical to the room
in which I woke. "Sometimes you sleep in here," he says, "when
you feel like it. But usually you don't like waking up alone. You get
panicked when you can't work out where you are." I nod. I feel like
a prospective tenant being shown around a new flat. A possible
housemate. "Let's go downstairs."
I follow him down. He shows me a living rooma brown sofa
and matching chairs, a flat screen bolted to the wall, which he tells
me is a televisionand a dining room and kitchen. None of it is
familiar. I feel nothing at all, not even when, sitting on a sideboard,
I see a framed photograph of the two of us. "There's a garden out
the back," he says, and I look through the glass door that leads off
the kitchen. It is just beginning to get light, the night sky starting to
turn an inky blue, and I can make out the silhouette of a large tree,
and a shed sitting at the far end of the small garden, but little else. I
realize I don't even know what part of the world we are in.
"Where are we?" I say.
He stands behind me. I can see us both, reflected in the glass.
Me. My husband. Middle-aged.
"North London," he replies. "Crouch End."
I step back. Panic begins to rise. "Jesus," I say. "I don't even
know where I bloody live . . ."
He takes my hand. "Don't worry. You'll be fine." I turn around
to face him, to wait for him to tell me how, how I will be fine, but
he does not. "Shall I make you your coffee?"
For a moment I resent him, but then say, "Yes. Yes please." He
fills a kettle. "Black, please," I say. "No sugar."
"I know," he says, smiling at me. "Want some toast?"
I say yes. He must know so much about me, yet still this feels
like the morning after a one-night stand: breakfast with a stranger
in his house, plotting how soon it would be acceptable to make an
escape, to go back home.
But that's the difference. Apparently this is my home.
"I think I need to sit down," I say. He looks up at me.
"Go and sit yourself down in the living room," he says. "I'll
bring this in a minute."
I leave the kitchen.
A few moments later, Ben follows me in. He gives me a book.
"This is a scrapbook," he says. "It might help." I take it from him.
It is bound in plastic that is supposed to look like worn leather but
does not, and has a red ribbon tied around it in an untidy bow.
"I'll be back in a minute," he says, and leaves the room.
I sit on the sofa. The scrapbook weighs heavy in my lap. To
look at it feels like snooping. I remind myself that whatever is in
there is about me, was given to me by my husband.
I untie the bow and open it at random. A picture of me and
Ben, looking much younger.
I slam it closed. I run my hands around the binding, fan the
pages. I must have to do this every day.
I cannot imagine it. I am certain there has been a terrible
mistake, yet there cannot have been. The evidence is therein the
mirror upstairs, in the creases on the hands that caress the book in
front of me. I am not the person I thought I was when I woke this
But who was that? I think. When was I that person, who woke in
a stranger's bed and thought only of escape? I close my eyes. I feel
as though I am floating. Untethered. In danger of being lost.
Excerpted from Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson Copyright © 2011 by S.J. Watson. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are saying about this
“A deft, perceptive exploration of a fascinating neurological condition, and a cracking good thriller.”
“Brilliant in its pacing, profound in its central question, suspenseful on every page and satisfying in its thriller ending.”
“An exceptional thriller. It left my nerves jangling for hours after I finished the last page.”
“Quite simply the best debut novel I have ever read.”
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