What are we if not an accumulation of our memories?
At the end of The Great Gatsby, Nick calls Tom and Daisy, Careless People. This is the phrase that came to my mind as I finished S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep.
But first the facts. A woman wakes up to find herself in a strange room, on a strange bed, and beside a strange man. The stranger is wearing a wedding ring and the woman curses herself for having slept with a married man. Before she can gather her thoughts however, she needs to use the washroom, so she goes barefoot over there. Why barefoot? Because, in her own words: I ignore the slippers at my feet – after all, fucking the husband is one thing, but I could never wear another woman’s shoes.
This sanctimonious pronouncement at page two of the novel was enough to put my teeth on edge, and make me completely unsympathetic towards the protagonist. And, of course, we are supposed to feel a great deal of sympathy for the poor woman because she suffers from a particular disorder that makes her forget her memories every time she goes to sleep. So every day she wakes up with no recollection of the past, not even with an idea about who she is. And so has to be told everything from scratch by her loving husband Ben (yes, it is her husband who was sleeping beside her).
But to get back to the story, after Ben leaves for his office, Christine’s (yes, that is the woman’s name) reverie is broken by the ringing of a bell. Eventually, she locates the source to a hand-bag where she finds a mobile-phone ringing away to glory. The voice at the other end says that it is her Doctor Nash calling and then arranges for her to meet him. (One of the abiding mysteries of the novel is as to who used to charge Christine’s mobile: Nash, Ben, or Christine herself?) Once they meet, Nash hands over a journal to Christine. This is a diary that he says has been written by Christine herself as part of the therapy. He wants her to read it. She takes it home, opens it, and finds this in bold letters: DON’T TRUST BEN.
And so it begins…
(The rest of the post contains SPOILERS so please don’t read any further till you have read the book)
I don’t know when it was the last time that I came across such a repulsive cast of characters. Christine, for whom we are supposed to have a bleeding heart, seems to have a habit of using people, noticeable right from the time of her first sexual encounter. Even her affair with Mike is a way of getting back at Ben and getting some material for her novel. Thus even while having an intimate moment with Mike, all she is thinking of is how to put the feelings in a book. And of course when it is all over for her, true to her type, she discards him.
And what about those who supposedly care for her? The husband and friend move away not even bothering to ask where she is. And the son, the oh-so-dutiful Adam who can’t wait to get out and make a phone call to his pregnant girlfriend couldn’t be bothered to make a visit to his mother (or even to call up the institute to inquire about her) all these months.
And these are the people who Christine thinks love her and will take care of her! How will they cope, I wonder, with the trauma of her waking up every morning without any recollection of the past whatsoever? Would they painstakingly explain everything to her and take care not to lose their temper or patience? Oh, but wait a minute, they are not going to be tested in this manner because – you know – Christine has got back her memory. Oh Wonderful! Applause all around. All’s well now and everybody will live happily ever after.
Why, oh why, did I waste my time on this book?
First Line: The bedroom is strange.
Title: Before I go to Sleep.
Author: S.J. Watson
Publication Details: London: Black Swan, 2012
First Published: 2011
Being a phenomenal bestseller, the book can be easily purchased. I borrowed it from the college library [823.09 W334B].