Before I Go to Sleep is a first novel by an NHS audiologist who wrote it in between shifts at London's St Thomas's Hospital, it's exceptionally accomplished.
After surviving what she believes was a car
crash, Chrissie developed a form of amnesia which has left her able to
store memories for only 24 hours. Every morning when she wakes she has
forgotten the circumstances of her life and must relearn them from
scratch: who her husband Ben is, where they live, whether or not they
The novel takes the form of a journal she is
encouraged to keep by a Dr Nash, who has, without Ben's knowledge, taken
an interest in her case. It becomes a lifeline to her past; though of
course she has to be reminded every day that she is writing it, or she
would never know it existed.
The journal helps Chrissie discover
things she has forgotten – for example that she once published a novel.
Ben has concealed this and other key facts from her. Why? Is he a
saintly carer, feeding her a sanitised version of her life that will not
upset her? Or is he manipulating her perception of a world which,
without memory to help her decode it, seems to hide innumerable vast
The structure is so dazzling it almost distracts you
from the quality of the writing. No question, this is a very literary
The government contains only the sneering rich and serves only the
sneering rich. They loathe the poor and have ensured they cannot escape
poverty and receive only the minimum of education and state support. The
health service has been destroyed and those who cannot afford private
care are crammed into ancient filthy hospitals where they go simply to
die. Any protests are put down with brutal force. No, I'm not talking
about the next few years of Cameron and Clegg's reign of terror. I'm not
even talking about the future as envisaged by the Tea Party. I'm
talking about Ursula K Le Guin's 1975 Hugo award winner, The Dispossessed, and her vivid descriptions of the dystopian world of Urras.
The inequality on Urras has naturally provoked a great deal of anger.
150-odd years before the story opens there was a huge revolution – but
instead of taking the more usual step of hanging their oppressors from
lampposts, a large number of the revolutionaries fled to set up their
own ideal society. Close to Urras (I know! It's the funniest planet name
since Uranus) there's an almost inhabitable desert world called Annares
where the idealists set up an anarchistic society based on principles
of shared wealth, shared responsibility and shared bedrooms.
Superficially, the society works. Incredibly, the people on Annares
don't even mind sleeping in dorms. But at the time the book opens,
things have calcified. The revolution is no longer moving forward. New
ideas are frowned on and feared, while greedy, self-interested people
(derided as "propertarians" in the language the inhabitants have
invented for themselves) have started to hog power. Discontent is