Category Archives: S.J. Watson

Novel Insights’ Top 12 Books – 2011

I am savouring my last day off work today and feeling a little bit smug to be sat indoors out of the rain with nothing more taxing to do than mull over my favourite books of the past year. Actually, I say it’s not taxing but I started by trying to pick five books, then changed it to ten, and then bumped it up to twelve – whoops! Well that is one for every month – a perfectly good excuse in my opinion. Here they are:

How To Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

5 stars 5/5

“…challenges all the stupid things that women are told (and tell themselves) with a big bucketful of humour…” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

5 stars 5/5

“…an important book and one that I think is up there with some of the best dystopian novels.” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go

In Love & Trouble, by Alice Walker

5 stars 5/5

“…each time I picked up Alice Walker’s collection of short stories, I felt as if time was suspended and I was transported completely to heat of the Southern America… The richness and vitality of Walker’s writing makes this book an utter pleasure to read.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

5 stars 5/5

“The stories sound barmy, and there is a heavy dose of the surreal, but at their heart Petrushevskaya’s tales  are real human experiences of grief, love and loss.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Purls of Wisdom, by Jenny Lord

5 stars 5/5

“…a book that I know I will refer to time and time again. I love the informal writing style because it feels just as if a friend is teaching you…” (AKA the book to blame for my knitting obsession in 2011!) Read full review.

Purls of Wisdom: The Book of Knitting

Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I struggle to think of many other books that convey what is a very serious message with so much originality and seemingly so effortlessly.” Read full review.

Mary Anne, by Daphne du Maurier

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…a book, packed with with witty lines, and a richly described period setting which creates the backdrop for the story of a fascinating protagonist based on du Maurier’s own great-great-grandmother.” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing, by Val McDermid

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I think that I might have found a new favourite crime writer to add to my list!” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

4 stars4/5

“Of course, this is a sad book to read, but also so beautifully and eloquently written… In an odd way, I believe that this little book could be comforting at a time of loss, if only because of how openly the author shares his experience.” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertész

4 stars4/5

“… a novel that will stay with me, because it is unique in the way that it addresses the experience of concentration camps. The writing is deceptively simple, and peppered with imaginative ideas…” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertesz

Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb

4 stars4/5

“…has the qualities that I associate with a real classic… A rich and many-layered story.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…smartly plotted, written compellingly and the premise is well-executed.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep

A retrospective look at Novel Insights tells me that in 2011 I read a total of 43 books which is a whole 30% lower than last year’s count of 62. I don’t get too hung up about the number of books that I read because I don’t like to over-organise or analyse the things I do for pleasure and for this reason I don’t really make reading resolutions.

That said, I do think that my reading and blogging can be seen as a bit of a barometer of how I’m feeling. While sometimes I read less because I’ve been occupied with nice, fun stuff (including quite a lot of knitting this year!) I have felt quite busy over the past few months and it is one of my resolutions to find a better balance between work and my leisure time.

Well that’s my little bit of naval-gazing over and done with! How was your 2011? Do you have any reading resolutions? What books really stood out for you this year?

Before I Go To Sleep, by S.J. Watson

4.5 stars4.5/5

Put very simply, Before I Go To Sleep, is an addictive book and a must-read for anyone who likes a good psychological thriller.

Before I go to Sleep

Doubleday, 2011 paperback edition, 368 pages - review copy

S.J. Watson’s debut novel is the story of Christine, a woman in her late forties who wakes up every morning, not knowing who the people around her are or where. She is and is shocked when she looks in the mirror to discover that she is twenty years older than she is in her head. Why? Her memory is damaged, seemingly beyond repair. She doesn’t even recognise her husband when she wakes, effectively with a stranger in her bed. A frightening prospect indeed. It is only when Christine starts keeping a journal that she is able to piece together her past. It is in this journal that she finds one morning an alarming message written to herself ‘Don’t trust Ben’. Is Christine’s mind creating false memories, or could something sinister be happening?

I know that memory loss as a premise has been explored before in science fiction and in films like Memento. I can’t really compare in any great detail, however in my limited experience, Before I Go To Sleep merits being called original. The perspective of a middle-aged woman, whose ordinary life is made extraordinary by this affliction is key in making the reader relate. Christine is not glamorous, she is just woman whose life has passed her by and who is both hungry to know more, and fearful of understanding the past. The feeling of ‘it could happen to you’ is ever present.

Watson’s angle is clever – he puts you in Christine’s shoes. The first person narrative creates a sense of intensity and because you being told the story by her, you have to relive the confusion when she wakes along with her. For this reason the book could have been quite frustrating, but too much repetition is cleverly avoided and instead there is a sense of claustrophobia which intensifies the reading experience.

Before I Go To Sleep is smartly plotted, written compellingly and the premise is well-executed. You will know if it is the kind of book you will enjoy. If it is, I say get your mitts on a copy and indulge!