Australian crime and thriller author Megan Goldin never does the same thing twice. She started with a story of manipulation and gaslighting in The Girl in Kellers Way, moved to a more high concept thriller in The Escape Room and then tackled some serious issues in the slightly more procedural The Night Swim. While there is kind of a procedural element in Stay Awake, Goldin is squarely back in high concept thriller territory. And that concept is one dear to the heart of many thriller writers – a form of situational amnesia.
Liv Reese wakes up in a taxi in New York trying to work out how she got there, why it is night and why it is no longer summer. When she returns to her apartment she finds her flatmate gone and other people living there, and slowly realises that her last memory was from two years before. She also has writing on her hands and arms including the words Stay Awake! While trying to navigate a confusing world, Liv goes over the events leading up to her last memory from two years before. At the same time a body is found in an apartment with the words ‘Wake Up!’ scrawled on the window in the victim’s blood and the woman caught on CCTV leaving the apartment building is Liv Reese.
So, yes, this is an amnesia thriller, a device used so often that it is practically its own subgenre. The plot hinges on the fact that every time Liv falls asleep her brain resets to the day that she lost her memory two years before. If that specific amnesia device sounds a little familiar, although used a little differently, think SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. To the point where even experts within the world of the novel are stunned by this specific form of amnesia. And readers would have to wonder whether Liv learnt her body writing trick from Christopher Nolan’s superb debut film Memento (although Guy Pearce is never credited).
Given all of that the question then becomes: how does Goldin use this device? And the answer is: fairly well. The plot itself and the revelations are well paced. The flashback chapters establish a range of potential suspects and plant plenty of red herrings. And Liv is an interesting, if a little naïve, main character who also often forgets that she could just google herself (although she loses her phone early on she does get access to various computers at different points). The two police investigators who are on her case – Jack Lavelle and Darcy Halliday – are more interesting, enough to get a series of their own.
While the premise is more than a little contrived, Goldin knows how to deliver a story that keeps the pages turning. So that many thriller lovers are likely to follow the instructions on the cover and devour Stay Awake in one sitting.