Before I Go To Sleep — S.J. Watson

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This month, we read the debut novel of S.J. Watson, a British author.  Before I Go to Sleep was published in theU.S. last year and in theUK earlier this year and has been a smash on both sides of the pond.  Nicole Kidman has been signed to star in the movie.

This book is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in awhile.  It is right up there with The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon as a fictional look at how the brain works, from the brain owner’s point of view.

One thing that writers are encouraged to do is give the reader a narrator they can trust.  In this book, the narrator is an amnesiac, so how can we trust her?  Because we know that her untrustworthiness is trustworthy, if that makes sense.  We know that we have to take everything she says with a grain of salt because on any given day, she only knows what she knows because others have told her what she knows, the others to include herself as written in her journal.

It’s a very interesting concept.

Neither Sylvia or David were that impressed with the book and David questioned whether someone really could experience amnesia like that demonstrated in the book.  Various true life cases were discussed and then a lively discussion about the nature of memory ensued and whether what we think is our first memory really is a memory or a story told to us.

As Mark Twain once said “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.”

Les declared that this was the best book we’ve read this year, while Pam was known to be late to work because she got wrapped up reading it while eating breakfast.  Joan thought it was such an exciting story, she gave up lunches out so she could stay in with her ham and cheese and read.  But she didn’t want to read it at night — it was too exciting for restful sleep.

Four Star Rating

The Picks:

Librarian Stephanie suggested books by Henning Mankell and Pam is still on her Scandinavian kick and is reading Kjell Eriksson.

Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin

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This is the first in a series of four books and alas, there will be no more – Diana Norman, a well-known journalist who wrote as Ariana Franklin, died in January, 2011.

This story was set in 12th century England, during the reign of Henry II which is a bit of a change for our group.  It’s such an interesting period in history, what with the Crusades and the changes in the political and legal structure of England. This is England at its rottenest and at its most glorious.

The role religion played in the era was very intriguing. A person’s religion was key to labeling a person. Adelia had so many identifying features – a woman, a foreigner and while it was assumed she was a Christian, which, back at that time, meant Catholic, she wasn’t really and she also had to be careful with calling herself a doctor because she could have easily found herself being labeled a witch and losing her life.

But then there were the Jews, a religion many considered to be bordering on witchcraft, what with the belief that they ate or sacrificed children. Woven things were left on the victims and no one actually came out and said that they were pentagrams, a witchcraft symbol, but it was inferred that they weren’t quite the six-pointed Jewish star.

To stir things up more, travelling with Adelia and Simon was a Saracen, a big black man, though a eunuch with a beautiful voice. This threw everyone for a loop because the Saracens were who the Crusaders were fighting, but this one supposedly was a doctor and on top of that, a eunuch, which seemed to make the big black man less scary.

Such a motley crew! A stinky dog, a woman from around the edges of society, her cranky grandson, and a prior who’s had his hoo ha fixed by a woman doctor and lived to tell the tale.

All in all, a very enjoyable story, a good mystery, a good historical novel and though Adelia is pretty darn cranky, you gotta love the way she handled the men around her. Her transformation is entertaining, though some in the group found it unbelievable. Mooning over Sir Rowley on one hand and wanting to study the whys and wherefores of lady parts on the other.

The group as a whole enjoyed the book for many of the same reasons I listed above. Les had issues with the journalistic nature of the writing and the historical accuracy of the words used, but the rest of us were less finicky about that. There were also some complaints that some of us didn’t feel for the characters.

A favorite character was Ulf, while the most unliked ranged widely. So many to choose from!

Overall rating 4.16 stars.  four stars

Next up is Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson. If you were fortunate enough to get a copy at our last meeting, read it quickly and return it to the library – we’re a little short!