Before I Go To Sleep

There was irony in my failing to remember any key details of the novel which sounded so different.  At its heart is amnesia, and specifically the story of a woman who wakes up each day with no memory at all.

So fascinating was its premise, the book stuck vividly after I had heard an interview with the author, or perhaps only a discussion about the book in a Guardian Books podcast.  I listened to it as early as February, March or April, but deleted and failed to retrace the precise podcast.  Nor could I remember the name of the book or the name of the author; merely the basic idea that it was about amnesia, and I was fairly sure it was a debut novel by a youngish man.

Weak Google searches yielded nothing or too much, Waterstones staff looked understandably blank, the presenter of the podcast Tweeted helpfully, but fed a link to an episode which gave no clues.

Only when browsing the New Books shelf in Waterstones a week ago did it leap out at me, the eye on the cover, the title; bells began to ring.  I picked it up, flicked through.  Yes, this was definitely it.  An idea to just buy it there and then flickered through, but no need.  Birthday soon.

But then, in the library the next day, browsing the modestly populated new books section, that eye stared at me again.  I hadn’t sent my birthday wish-list.  A spring of the heart, an instinctive click of the fingers – which probably made me look like a dickhead, a jubilant fist.  After being frustratingly out of reach, untrackable for months – possibly because it hadn’t yet been published – now it had found me, weirdly, somehow.

I suppressed the alien sensation of cheer and good fortune: the fact I’d subconsciously glamorised it by not knowing enough about it, been seduced by the quirk of not remembering any pertinent details.

Probably be crap now; don’t get your hopes up.

But it wasn’t crap.  The book is written in an unshowy, crisp but elegant style by an author with a medical background who is deliberately not assigned a gender on the book synopsis or writer biography.  Not flawless or without arguably necessary contrivances, it’s always compelling.  This is largely because the premise is so crackling, disorientating and unlike anything you’ve read before – even in other fiction where amnesia is central to the plot.  It’s little surprise that film rights were snapped up by Ridley Scott’s production company, presumably quite early in the book’s lifespan, possibly even before publication.

The subject snares us immediately because we are all affected by memory; everyone depends on it.  In a way it’s all anyone ever has, so what would we do without it?  How can we live, having our intelligence and awareness, but knowing nothing about ourselves or our lives or the world?

Towards the end it develops a thrilling momentum and sense of dread which made my heart race and literally panicked me.  I can’t remember being as physically moved by a book in a long time.  When you look back on a book, years down the line, you remember first and foremost how it made you feel.  While the emotion was pushed to its very limits, arguably overdone in part, there were points where it was impossible to stop the eyes from welling up.

The book also acts as a testament to how writing supports and enables memory, ostensibly in creating an artefact for future reference.  It’s always been my belief, though this isn’t mentioned in the book, that writing itself – explicitly putting down what’s inside your head, helps to cement memory: just reliving it once and turning it into words is as a rubberstamp.  Although that’s not always a good thing.

I’ve often wondered if I’ll look back on the contents of this blog, if I’m lucky enough to grow into an old man.  If I’ll squirm with embarrassment at the memories, or smile wistfully and think myself an idiot.  Either way it could potentially support memory, make me remember certain times, places and people.  That is, unless something stupendously humiliating happens and I spontaneously delete the whole thing.


One Response to Before I Go To Sleep

  1. Pingback: Recent reading ramble « Boshsuckled

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