Amnesiacs appear to be all the rage these days, at least in literary circles. Six weeks ago, I noted The History of History, the new novel by Ida Hattemer-Higgins about both an individual amnesiac and cultural amnesia in Berlin. This week I encountered two other novels featuring a character with amnesia.
S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep is a psychological thriller that was just released on June 14th and already seems destined to end up on this summer's best-seller lists. Ridley Scott (producer of movies and television series) has already acquired film rights. Amazon has designated it a Best Book of the Month for June. Here's the plot summary by their reviewer, Miriam Landis:
Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he's obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis--all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesiac. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she's written three unexpected and terrifying words: "Don't trust Ben." Suddenly everything her husband has told her falls under suspicion. What kind of accident caused her condition? Who can she trust? Why is Ben lying to her? And, for the reader: Can Christine’s story be trusted? At the heart of S. J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep is the petrifying question: How can anyone function when they can't even trust themselves? Suspenseful from start to finish, the strength of Watson's writing allows Before I Go to Sleep to transcend the basic premise and present profound questions about memory and identity. One of the best debut literary thrillers in recent years, Before I Go to Sleep deserves to be one of the major blockbusters of the summer.
I enjoyed this book very much. Watson writes well and knows how to maintain tension in the narrative. The reader has to suspend more than the usual disbelief in order to accept that Christine is writing such detailed and lengthy journal entries each day in order to keep track of who she is and what is happening to her. But once you get past that hurdle, the book is utterly absorbing. ★★★★☆
Far less successful, in my opinion, is Liane Moriarty's new novel, What Alice Forgot, whose protagonist wakes up from a fall and a bad knock on the head to discover that she is thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the middle of a nasty divorce. Alice has misplaced ten years of her life.
This is one of those books that makes me wonder about myself as a reader. I see that many other readers have written glowing reviews at Amazon's site; they found the book compelling and interesting. To me, it was neither. I didn't care about Alice or any of the other characters. The book is simply dead, which is also the state I kept wishing upon Alice. Who knows: you might like it. I didn't. This was yet another book that I got a quarter of the way into and simply could not make myself continue reading. ★☆☆☆☆