A few weeks ago I went to hear SJ Watson speak at a local literary festival. In common with many Watson readers, I initially thought SJ was a woman and only realised my mistake when I picked up a copy of his first novel, Before I go to Sleep, a domestic psychological thriller about a woman who has lost her memory. It’s interesting to muse on the extent to which an author’s gender may have a bearing on your decision about whether or not to buy a book. Perhaps where an author does not share the gender of his/her protagonist, the use of initials may be an advantage at the point where the book is being purchased.
More important, however, at least for this reader, is the author’s ability to create plausible characters and Watson successfully created a believable female heroine in Before I Go To Sleep winning himself a lot of fans in the process. For the most part, I think he has achieved the same in Second Life. Here, the protagonist, Julia, embarks on a quest to find her sister’s murderer. The problem with Julia is that some of the decisions she takes in the course of that quest seem unlikely and that, combined with a plot hole that becomes apparent at the end of the novel, has resulted in weaker ratings from some readers.
Second novels often struggle to match reader expectations. Before I go to Sleep was generally well received and Second Life was eagerly anticipated by SJ Watson fans but the reviews I’ve seen so far are lukewarm. For my part, I found it mostly a pacier read than the earlier novel and it kept me turning the pages to the end.
[Disclosure: An advance copy was provided by the publisher HarperCollins for the purpose of this review]