The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik



June 29, 2011

Sleeping Woman


Imagine waking up in a strange room, with a dark-haired man, wearing a wedding ring, lying next to you.  There's a dressing gown (not one you'd wear) hanging on the back of the door.  Drawing the line at wearing another woman's slippers even though you're sleeping with her husband, in her bed, you creep down the hall to the bathroom, and embarrassment turns to horror.

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 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.
{Wait! I'm wriggling my fingers, and they are moving. That last part? That happens to me every day.}

I put Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson, on reserve at the library, because a lot of people were talking about it. I'm tempted to say it's not the kind of thing -- suspense, thriller -- that I'm usually drawn to.  But let's be honest... I was, for a while, secretly drawn to reading Mary Higgins Clark.  {There was a wordless gasp from me, a week or so ago, when I saw her listed on someone's list of the most influential women writers. Well, okay then.}  She is a terrible wordsmith, but her plots, even the not-credible ones, can definitely wrap around you and draw you in.

S.J. Watson is a much better writer. As it turns out (not really a spoiler), Christine suffers from amnesia, as the result of an accident, and her memory is erased every night when she falls asleep.  She is protected by her kindly, patient, harassed husband Ben, and visited by a young researcher,  Dr. Nash, who encourages her to keep a journal so she can read about the things she can't remember. I thought S.J. Watson did a great job of setting up the situation and of creating Christine's strange but believable everyday life, but I did begin to wonder, a little, how she would sustain it.  Then, a few days into the novel, Christine reads a warning that she has written to herself, and  the plot begins to move, then to race.

I was very satisfied with the ending. I didn't see it coming, but then I could look back and say, 'Of course, yes. That never did happen.'  It reminded me of that 'rule' of mystery writing where the author has to present all the clues, so the reader could solve the mystery along with the detective {I never can}.  There's a very neat, built-in way to do this with a novel about amnesia, as Christine begins to remember and to question, but it's the author's skill that makes the story credible (mostly) and scary (in a good way) at the same time. {But don't just take my word for it.}


{Milton Avery, Sleeping Woman, found here}


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5 comments:

bookmarksandteacups said...

I put this on hold at my library after reading a review in the newspaper, and now after reading yours and Dolce Bellezza's reviews I just can't wait for this to come in! I love a satisfying ending to a suspense/thriller. And I can never solve the mystery along with the detective, either, but I love looking back and seeing how it all fit together.

Bellezza said...

Audrey, I loved your post! Isn't it hard to write about such books without giving too much away? But, I think you did a masterful job; I, too, have experienced the "What?!" moment of looking in the mirror...I didn't feel too manipulated in this novel, as I have with other psychological thrillers. Like you, it's not my very favorite genre, but I do enjoy a good race to the end kind of book especially during vacation.
Glad to be reading so many fun books together this summer!

Danielle said...

I have heard many good things about it, so your post is just another one in its favor! Luckily I just brought it home from the library a couple of days ago--I see I need to get moving and start reading!

JoAnn said...

This morning it was Bellezza's post, and now here is your wonderful review! I must read this book...

Annie said...

I have moved up the library list for this. I am now 17 in a list of 43! Oh well, it will make a good book to look forward to at Christmas.