Mark Watson

James Chiltern boards the 23:50 sleeper train from London to Edinburgh with two pork pies, six beers and a packet of chocolate digestives. At 23:55 he sends a message to all 158 people in his contacts, telling them that he plans to end his life in the morning. He then switches his phone to flight mode. He’s said goodbye. To him, it’s the end of his story – and time to crack open the biscuits.

But across the world, 158 phones are lighting up with a notification. Phones belonging to his mum. His sister. His ex-best friend. The woman who broke his heart. People he’s lost touch with. People he barely knows. And for them, the message is only the beginning of the journey.

Funny and wise, tender and deeply moving, Contacts is a beautiful story about the weight of loneliness, the importance of kindness – and how it’s never too late to reach out.

Contacts book cover

“James was not a stuntman; he was a ponderer. He’d once caused a Monopoly game to be abandoned by deliberating so long over a hotel purchase that their guests went home.”

Since I read Eleven, I have known Watson has had the ability to make me stop and think. This very much holds true here, and although of course the subject matter is troubling, the execution is actually quite positive. The humour is just perfect, and there’s enough of it to keep you cheerful, even as you contemplate the disintegration of lives. I really felt for James, of course, which is the intent, and even if retrospectively it’s hard to say how bad a place he was really in, you can still appreciate how things haven’t gone his way.

yet more of me clung to other characters, and it is their reactions that truly sell the work. From young emigres in London to family in Australia, to his dear mum Jean, the windows onto the lives of all these people are rich and diverse and wonderful to see. I think Jean is my favourite, her age, reactions, feelings and thoughts so perfectly speak to me as a person now somehow (and worryingly quickly) in his midthirties.
For all that everything happens over one night and there is arguably not a lot of story, there are plenty of stories, and it’s these that make the book so … wedgy. it wedges itself into your brain and you start to think about how other people might react to the things you do or say, to what might be going on in their lives of which you are oblivious.

Published by Sean Randall

I am an avid reader, technologist and disability advocate living in the middle of England with my wife, daughter and pets.

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