Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: 9 June 2015
Format: Paperback, 416 pgs
I've been meaning to read S. J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep after reading so many glowing reviews of it; and I need to check out the film adaptation too, as I've heard it was equally good. Nevertheless, my reading whim took me to his latest release, Second Life, and I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I'm reading a Watson book, right?
Second Life tells a gripping story about a woman whose intention is to find the murderer who'd killed her younger sister but that path has led her to having another identity, lies and secrets.
Julia thought her life is in control. She has a drinking problem but she'd gone for a program and hasn't been drinking for years. Her marriage with her surgeon husband, Hugh, is happy. Connor, her fourteen-year-old nephew, lives with them since he was a baby. His mother, Kate, being too young when she gave birth to him, didn't object when Julia decided to bring him up as her own. The relationship between Julia and Kate has became lukewarm after Julia has decided to move out to be on her own; she felt she needed to have her own life after taking care of young Kate since their mother's passing. Their father felt hopeless (clueless, too) with bringing up the two girls but Julia didn't really mind then. However, as adults their relationship became distance apart; and Julia dreads Kate might ask for Connor's return one day soon (although she'd adopted him and he called her "Mum").
While worrying over Connor, she's received news about Kate's death. Kate appeared to be drinking alone in a bar before someone attacked her in a dark alley. She was neither robbed nor raped, and this has puzzled Julia and the police. The latter couldn't find anything related to the attack, but Kate's friend (also flatmate) has later told Julia that Kate had went online looking for dates and sex. It was not something shocking, as she'd related to Julia later, considering they are single and they wanted some fun.
Julia thinks otherwise, and to make things worse she's finally caved in to drinking, thinking a little wouldn't harm her. She also decides she'd look into Kate's death, starting by looking into her things and finding some clues from there. Julia's husband, Hugh, thinks Julia should move on, go seek for a counsellor and let the police handles the case. But Julia feels she should take matters in her own hands and her first attempt is to check out the dating sites Kate had logged on to and there, she befriended a charismatic young man called Lukas. She thinks Lukas may provide some answers to Kate's death, but little did she know that she's seeing more of Lukas and find herself entangled in an extramarital affair. But that is not all, Lukas seems to harbour a dark desire of owning Julia and Julia is no longer sure if Lukas is the man she called her lover.
Second Life took me by surprise on many levels, which was a good thing. First of all, I thought this would be a thriller whereby Julia would find her ways in searching for her sister's murderer but it ended up otherwise. Secondly, Kate's murder (and murderer) wasn't what I'd expected to be, although I wished she'd not died that way. And aside from the suspense, the story also allows readers to reflect on some issues such as drugs and alcohol addiction, the inconspicuous of social media, family and infidelity.
While the story isn't new, I found myself engrossed in it. I found the characterisations believable and some of the premise to be true, especially the part which mentioned that there are all kinds of people pretend to be someone they're not on the internet. Speaking of characterisation, Julia was someone whom I felt sorry with the moment I learnt about her past. She has lost her sister; her husband works too hard and neglect her feelings at times and Connor has his own world and life. She feels alone and I could see why she fell quickly and so deeply into another relationship, even if that man was ten years her junior. Then again, she also exasperated me with her occasional stupidity (or is it naivety?) and her self-absorbed mind many times that I wished she'd come to her senses soon, before all is too late.
I liked Watson's writing style a lot and while the twisty ending felt a bit ambiguous to me, still I was captivated by his storytelling throughout my entire reading journey. Needless to say, Before I Go to Sleep would be onto my to-read list.