Dark Psychological Thriller by SJ Watson

Second Life SJ Watson
View the Kindle edition details for Second Life by SJ Watson

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]

 

Before I Go To Sleep — a psychological thriller by SJ Watson

Memories define us.

So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?

I wanted to read Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson l before I went to see the movie which stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. It came highly recommended and for the most part, it didn’t disappoint. It reminded me a bit of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in that it’s a page turner — at least for the first third of the book or so and then again in the final chapters.

It’s the story of a woman called Christine who lost her memory in a traumatic incident and now wakes up each day with no memory of the past. Christine’s life is necessarily narrow — her only two relationships for most of the book are with her husband Ben and with the mysterious Dr Nash. Christine uses a journal to record what she uncovers each day and her own writing becomes her only reliable guide to her past. But can she even trust herself?

Like Christine, the reader too is not sure who to believe. The seeds of mistrust are sown at the outset — the very first page in Christine’s journal says “Don’t trust Ben”. But is Christine a reliable narrator or is her journal made up of imagined events rather than real? What about the creepy Dr Nash? Can Christine’s former friend Claire be trusted? Who is lying and why?

SJ Watson Before I Go To Sleep
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As a tool, Christine’s journal works well bringing the reader with her as she slowly pieces together her past. Before I Go to Sleep is a powerful page turner — worth a look, particularly for readers who enjoyed Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

[Disclosure: A free copy of Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson was made available via Netgalley for the purpose of this review].