Before I Wake (1 June 2014) by C.L. Taylor

Before I WakeBefore I Wake by C.L. Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I Wake by CL Taylor is the kind of book that kept me up late at night reading, and the kind of book that, after I finished it, I fell asleep thinking about.
It falls into the same genre as many recent novels I have read, such as Under Your Skin, by Sabine Durrant, Jellybird, by Lezanne Clannachan, Precious Thing, by Collete McBeth, and the novels of Samantha Hayes, Julia Crouch, and Claire McGowan. These novels have a lot of things in common; they usually have a female protagonist who may or may not be losing her mind, and they usually deal with female friendships, or the relationships between mothers and daughters, or husbands and wives. There is often a tragedy, either a murder, a kidnapping, or an act of violence, there is usually some kind of obsession, and there is often narrative from both the past and present. There is usually a strong mystery/thriller element, and almost always, some type of twist or reveal.
With that said, these novels are currently popular for a reason…the combination of elements mentioned above are an addictive concoction, even when thrown together in a less than stellar fashion. I think that part of the appeal of “domestic noir” as it has recently been coined by author Julia Crouch, is that it deals with real, normal women, presumably similar to the reader, who are dealing with relationships that are easily relatable.
Most of us have a mother, a friend, a child, or else the lack of those things, and that impacts us in deep ways. So the subject matter of these novels touches the heart of some universal experiences and fears, and allows us to get the voyeur’s thrill of reading about someone else overcome a problem.
To me, many of these novels are like a chocolate bar at the checkout counter of a supermarket; there is a whole selection of similar choices, each with slight variations: milk, dark, caramel, peanuts- it’s very easy to pick one up in passing, to consume it quickly, and to forget about it afterwards. And just like inexpensive chocolate bars, these types of novels pretty much always look tasty.
That said, I love chocolate, including the generic supermarket variety. I also seem to love this domestic-noir genre, and find that some authors who write this type of novel are truly gifted storytellers who are able to touch my emotions deeply. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of writers in this genre, probably because it is such a hot sell for publishers right now, who are simply mediocre.
Luckily, Before I Wake by CL Taylor is one of the more solid offerings in the domestic-noir genre. The story follows Susan, whose daughter Charlotte is in a coma. Despite the assumption of everyone around her that this coma is the result of an accident, Susan suspects that Charlotte was trying to kill herself because she had a terrible secret. What follows is a mystery with many of the aforementioned elements, and a story in which we aren’t sure until the very end who to trust.
Before I Wake is also, to my mind, a successful novel because as well as being a roller coaster of a thriller, it also chronicles the emotional journey and changes that Susan goes through as a result of what happens to her, and her response to it. Is Susan a victim? A murderer? Paranoid? Or is she the only person who can save her daughter? To avoid spoilers, all I will say is that the story ends with a rip-roaring, satisfying conclusion.
One more thing that Before I Wake made me think about was how many publishers and reviewers are comparing this type of fiction to Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, and usually stating that these “imitations” fall short of that inspiration. I had accepted that premise, since domestic noir has definitely seemed to flourish in years following the publication of Gone Girl. However, after reading Before I Wake, I began to think differently.
To me, there are crucial, basic differences between Gone Girl, and the novels categorized as domestic noir. Domestic-noir novels deal with issues primarily pertaining to women. These include the experiences of pregnancy and motherhood, the particular relationships between female friends, mothers and daughters, or of a woman being abused by a man who is physically, clearly stronger than she is. Gone Girl did none of these things.
To my mind, Gone Girl deals with issues that apply to both sexes. It chronicles a twisted marriage from the perspective of both the husband and the wife. It is more about power dynamics, rather than about a specifically female experience. So to me, the basic appeal of Gone Girl is completely different from the basic appeal of domestic noir.
This is not to say that men won’t enjoy reading novels in this genre, but it is interesting to note that domestic-noir authors are mostly (if not totally) women, and that in the novels I have read, there is almost never a male first-person perspective given. All that is NOT to say that domestic noir is better or worse than Gone Girl, but simply to say that I think the two have some fundamental differences. Although novels like Before I Wake are often compared to Gone Girl (perhaps initially in order to promote sales), reading them with that comparison in mind will often lead to judging them negatively.
Instead, I think novels like Before I Wake will be more enjoyed if read on their own terms. When I do this, I find that some of these novels are well written, and contain characters with whom I empathize deeply. I am happy to say that Before I Wake was a well-written novel, a chocolate confection with hidden depths, and I will be going back to the checkout counter gleefully looking to buy the next literary treat that CL Taylor has to offer. I received a review copy of Before I Wake from the publisher through NetGalley.

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