I’ve read all three of Megan Goldin’s previous books and commented in past reviews that she gives us something different in each outing and I wonder if it’s the varied nature of Goldin’s journalistic background that has her moving between thrillers and domestic noir, dipping into the world of podcasts, cold crimes, rape trials and… escape rooms.
In her latest release, Stay Awake, she explores the world of amnesia, trauma and lost memories. It’s akin to Drew Barrymore’s condition in the popular movie, 50 First Dates… although here it’s brought on my psychological trauma rather than brain damage. Which of course means those memories could reappear at any time…
by Megan Goldin
Published by Penguin Books Australia
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Liv Reese wakes up in the back of a taxi with no idea where she is or how she got there.
When she’s dropped off at the door of her brownstone, a stranger answers―a stranger who now lives in her apartment and forces her out in the cold. She reaches for her phone to call for help, only to discover it’s missing, and in its place is a bloodstained knife. That’s when she sees that her hands are covered in black pen, scribbled messages like graffiti on her skin: STAY AWAKE.
Two years ago, Liv was living with her best friend, dating a new man, and thriving as a successful writer for a trendy magazine. Now, she’s lost and disoriented in a New York City that looks nothing like what she remembers. Catching a glimpse of the local news, she’s horrified to see reports of a crime scene where the victim’s blood has been used to scrawl a message across a window, the same message that’s inked on her hands.
What did she do last night? And why does she remember nothing from the past two years? Liv finds herself on the run for a crime she doesn’t remember committing as she tries to piece together the fragments of her life. But there’s someone who does know exactly what she did, and they’ll do anything to make her forget―permanently.
There’s hints of the movie Memento as well as Liv writes ‘things she needs to remember’ on her hands and her body. It’s a habit that she adopted as a child and now proving to be a lifesaver as she falls asleep several times here, so back to square one each time. It means we readers have some insight but only a little more than Liv does each time she wakes.
In one of her waking moments Liv discovers two years has passed since her last memory (receiving a phone call and leaving the office). This memory is repeated again and again each time she wakes and Goldin deftly ekes out the unravelling of Liv’s day and the years that follow.
I must admit I was a little surprised / frustrated that Liv (when awake) didn’t just google her name and those of her friends but that’s the logic-lover in me.
While Liv is trying to piece together her past AND her present we spend time with newly paired detectives Darcy Halliday and Jack Lavelle on the trail of a murderer. Darcy’s our narrator here but we do slip into Jack’s world a few times. Goldin offers a good balance, introducing the pair and the fact that Halliday’s trying to earn a permanent place on the NYPD homicide team while dealing with a traumatic military past, but those details not diminishing the focus on Liv and their own murder investigation.
We’re not introduced to a lot of players here so I think it’s kinda easy to pick the whole whodunnit thing but Goldin does a great job of pacing the reveals so we only get information when needed. We’re kept guessing about Liv’s condition in particular and discover she’s not being treated and may be making her confusion worse with the amount of caffeine she’s ingesting. We also learn that her inability to recall anything after sleeping only started fairly recently.
I should mention that the media release that came with the book talked about Goldin’s inspiration coming from (these) Covid years and a sense of dislocation and loss in this changing world, which certainly makes sense.
And I’m sure many of us can relate to that feeling of something that’s… almost the opposite of deja-vu. We recognise this world. But (at the same time) we don’t.
This is another great read from Goldin and I look forward to what comes next. It was also very timely for me as I’m watching Surface on AppleTV+ which (like Before I Go To Sleep) is about a woman who’s lost her short term memory after an incident and becomes suspicious her husband was involved.
Stay Awake by Megan Goldin will be published by Penguin Australia and available from 16 August 2022.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.