Summer reads
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Summer reads: Before I Go to Sleep

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The Cottage Life Summer Reads series runs all summer long featuring books perfect for reading at the cottage.

There are some books that hook you from the very first moment and don’t let you go until you finish the story. That’s exactly what happens in Before I Go to Sleep. I read the first few pages casually, then put it down. Within an hour, I’d picked it up again, and throughout the day, kept going back to it. There are so many questions in the first few moments that I found my mind drifting back to the book, and ended up finishing it within the day.

The story is told by Christine, a woman whose memory resets while she sleeps. Every morning she wakes up in a strange house with a husband she doesn’t recognize, and even her own face is unfamiliar. A doctor calls each day to tell her that they’ve been working together without her husband’s knowledge. She’s been keeping a journal to record her progress and to remind herself of what she knew in the days before. The book is largely made up of the contents of that journal—we discover Christine’s life along with her.

The intense pacing of the novel makes it hard to stop reading. Before I Go to Sleep is most definitely a thriller, but the setup is subtle. The first few chapters are perhaps an accurate portrayal of what someone with no memory would experience, however there’s an insidious note of wrongness that creeps in to suggest that something is not right.

The book’s suspenseful climax is an exciting finish to a fast-paced, compelling novel. If you’re reading this one in a hammock, remember your sunscreen because the day will be gone before you know it.

I got the chance to ask the author of Before I Go to Sleep, SJ Watson, some questions. Here’s what he had to say about the book, writing, and his favourite cottage reads.

Lora Kee: I think the subject of memory is very interesting. What do you think it is that makes a single memory stick out more than another?

SJ Watson: I have no idea! I think some memories might have a certain resonance for us, perhaps because they were in some way formative. Perhaps we revisit those memories more often, replaying them in our head, and in that way they reinforce themselves and become more ‘hardwired’ and easier to access?

LK: Despite not remembering anything about herself, Christine still has a very defined character and somehow knows who she is. Do you think a person is defined by the core of their personality, or the things they’ve done?

SJW: I believe we’re a combination of nature and nurture, with our experiences and actions shaping a character that has certain genetic tendencies and predispositions. I do think that though we might not remember particular incidents, the ways in which those incidents have affected and changed us stays with us.

LK: The novel moves at a very fast pace and hits the reader with a lot of intensity. Was it easy to write it as a fast moving thriller or did you have to work at times to make it pace so well?

SJW: It was a combination. The first draft was quite quick, but then, in the editing stage, I worked hard to make it a hopefully satisfying, well paced, read.

LK: We’re always looking for good ideas for what to read at the cottage. What kind of books to you like do read to escape from the hubbub of your busy life?

SJW: I read all sorts, in all kinds of genres. When I want to retreat from life a little I like nothing more than re-reading a book I love. People think it’s odd, when there are so many books to read, but I find it’s like playing a favourite record—you know the melody so you can listen out for new things. If you want a specific recommendation, though, I recently read Sunset Park by Paul Auster and thought it was brilliant.

LK: There’s talk of a Before I Go to Sleep movie. Who would you like to see play Christine?

SJW: The movie will hopefully be shot later this year, which is tremendously exciting!  It has a great script, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out. As for who I’d like to see playing Christine? It’s not really for me to say. I don’t want to jinx things by jumping the gun, but hopefully there’ll be some pretty exciting news on that front soon!

before i go to sleep