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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.

370 pages, Hardcover

First published October 29, 2020

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About the author

Mark Watson

112 books285 followers
Mark Andrew Watson (born 13 February 1980) is an English stand-up comedian and novelist.

Watson was born in Bristol to Welsh parents. He has younger twin sisters called Emma and Lucy and brother Paul. He attended Henleaze Junior school and then Bristol Grammar School, where he won the prize of 'Gabbler of the year', before going to Queens' College, Cambridge, where he studied English, graduating with first class honours. At university he was a member of the Footlights and contemporary of Stefan Golaszewski, Tim Key and Dan Stevens. He was part of the revue which was nominated for the Best Newcomer category in the Perrier Comedy Awards at the 2001 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and also co-directed a revue with Key.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 424 reviews
Profile Image for Nat K.
407 reviews147 followers
June 27, 2022
Imagine what your first thought would be when your phone lights up with a new message, and you read the words that someone is saying goodbye to you. Permanently. As in, leaving this mortal coil behind.

"I know what I'm doing, and I'm fine. I just wanted the chance to say goodbye and to thank you for the things we have shared.
James x"

What emotions do you think you would feel? Fear? Disbelief? Anger? Incredulity? Horror? You may even wonder if it's a drunken joke. A messy text sent by someone who's had one too many, and will surely feel better in the morning.

James Chiltern sends one such text which reaches the entire contacts list saved to his phone. All 158 of them. Each person simultaneously recieving his message, sent from the London-Edinburgh train at 00:02.

Having reached the age of forty, he's an eeny bit overweight and feeling more than a little disillusioned. His partner has left him, he no longer speaks to his sister or best mate, and he's just lost his job.

"...feeling progressively more invisible, feeling fat and hot and useless."

The thing is, James is a really lovely bloke. The type you can depend on. Kind and thoughtful. Happy to be the designated driver on a night out. Who doesn't deserve the crummy set of cards he's been dealt. But his loneliness is so overwhelming, so unbearable, that he can't see his way out of it. The unhappiness he feels is "thick and choking," his life turned into an "endless flat grey afternoon of depression."

This story looks at the implications of our relationships. Family, friends, acquaintances. The reasons we lose touch with each other. Sometimes intentionally, but usually not. Life just happens, it unfolds, and we tend to assume that those we know are ok, unless they are going through a major crisis. But what constitutes one of those?

As the train snakes its way from London to Edinburgh, we get the backstory of what led James to this decision. We see snippets of his childhood, the fun times with his sister, his love for his Dad, the dreams of conquering the world when working in a start-up company with his buddy Karl, how he met his partner Michaela. Now all of them are sadly part of his past.

In alternating chapters we see the reactions of the people who receive James' text at all hours across the globe. Their story as part of his life. The good times, the happy memories, the lifeblood that gives us meaning.

"Eighty-two texts and fourteen missed calls. A deluge. In January he'd received just two texts in an entire week, and one of them was to offer him two-for one pizzas if he replied with the word PEPPERONI. Eighty-two messages sent by people who had been disrupted, moved in some way, by the one he'd sent."

The reason that James selects an ovenight train to Edinburgh is particularly poignant. Bittersweet.

Using mobile phones throughout the story is interesting and makes sense. It shows that while technology can often isolate people and stop a real conversation from taking place, it can also be a fast, safe way to keep in touch. To send a quick message, that you're thinking of someone. It's like the saying goes, you never know whose day you might change with your smile. The same can be said for a phone call or text message.

"Where were you all when I actually needed it? James asked the silence."

Food for thought.

If I've made this sound like a sad story, it couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, it sure does have some hard, dark moments. But it's also full of hope and encourages us to check in with each other. And to also check in with ourselves, and not pretend that everything is ok, when you know it isn't.

Trigger warnings⚠️ Suicide and suicidal thoughts. Depression and depressive thoughts. Confronting scenes.

I came across this book purely by chance yesterday. My Saturday arvo plans had fallen completely apart, and I was mooning about in Dymocks (one of the many amazing bookstores in Sydney) feeling sorry for myself , when this book caught my eye. That evening, I read over half. It's been so long since I got into a book so easily from the start. I just kept reading, and reading, turning the pages, as it's such an easy story to become invested in. Quite simply, it resonated with me on a deep level.

I'd not heard of Mark Watson before reading this, but I'm so glad that now I have. Bravo. It was definitely the right book at the right time.
Profile Image for Mandy White (mandylovestoread).
1,976 reviews503 followers
November 10, 2020
Contacts by Mark Watson has such a unique premise and I was intrigued on how it was going to play out. It was an emotional, at times funny and clever story tackling a tough subject. It was one that I took my time with and really appreciated.

James Chiltern has had enough and given upon himself and life. He books himself a sleeper cabin on the London to Edinburgh train and boards with one intention. He sends a message to his 158 contacts in his phone to say goodbye, and then switches it to flight mode.

From here we learn about James and his life through his own flashbacks. Chapters jump between the people closest to him while they try to find a way to stop James carrying out his message. There is his mother Jean, ex girlfriend now living in Germany Michaela, his flat mate Steffi, best friend Karl and his estranged sister Sal, who is living in Melbourne. All of them are wondering how they missed the signs and how they can help him.

Thanks to Harper Collins Australia for sending me a copy of this book to read.
Profile Image for Andrea.
757 reviews31 followers
March 21, 2021
TW: suicide

2.5★, a little disappointing.

James is a top bloke. Never the life of the party, but a solid, dependable, affable, loyal person. However, lately a few things have gone badly wrong in James' life and he's decided to end it. He boards the overnight train to Edinburgh, a place that has significance to him, sends a goodbye text to his 158 phone contacts, switches his phone to flight mode, then settles in to endure his last night on earth in his little sleeper compartment.

Meanwhile, all over the world, James' text begins to make waves. In Melbourne, his sister has already begun a busy working day, while in London his flatmate is just finishing up her shift at a popular restaurant. In Berlin, his ex is out on the town with her new partner. His mum doesn't even have a mobile phone, so she didn't get the message; instead woken by one of those dreaded night-time calls on the landline. Many people, many different reactions. Lots of reasons to feel guilty. Nobody knows where James is, or how to contact him. But lots of people want to help. Can anyone do anything to help ward off this tragedy-in-the-making?

I had hoped for a lot more from this book. One of Mark Watson's previous novels, Eleven, is counted amongst my favourites and I enjoy both his humour and his writing. But this just didn't hit the mark for me. There were lots of characters and unfortunately the one I connected with the least was James. I don't mean that I wasn't concerned about his fate, it's just that I was more concerned about those trying to help him. I enjoyed the style of story telling, but felt that it was unfinished at the point of resolution for James. What happened to Steffi? What about mum? Did Sal decide to come home?

That aside, the point of the story was well-made. Watson has shown us that although we might often regret the way human interaction has changed for the worse with the emergence and prevalence of various technologies, it is those same technologies that can make all the difference in times of crisis. Although the book was written just before the pandemic, when our relationship to technology was a little different, it's still a powerful message.
Profile Image for Grumpy Old Books.
88 reviews6 followers
October 2, 2020
I would like to thank Harper Collins and Netgalley for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest and fair review.
A lonely man named James decides to take his own life. In the modern day equivelant of an old fashioned suicide note, he writes a short text on his phone and sends to all his contacts (like a "black mirror" version of Michael MacIntyre's schtik) hence the title. The book then reveals with how his contacts deal with the news and, in flashback, how he came to be in such a sorry state. Fair to say its not all rainbows and lollipops. There are numerous miseries heaped on our shy, good natured victim of life. I won't describe them, but leave them for the reader to find. However its not the big disasters that crack him, but the multitude of small sadnesses and loneliness that grind him down. Technology and in particular mobile phones form a background thread through the book.
The author is a stand up comedian but this is not a humerous book. He wrings every little bit of guilt and anxiety possible out of the story. He makes you feel uncomfortable and socially awkward. It shows how an intelligent, affable person can be emotionally lost in the crowd. It is a very sad book. I may recommend it to friends but only if I feel they are strong enough to deal with the themes. I listened to the audio book. Mark Watson narrates the story and while the Welshman does not have the rich, melodious tones of a Michael Sheen or a Richard Burton, his voice is suited to the neurotic story. He is a sort of Welsh Woody Allen. The big plus for this book is that, at least in my experience, it will make you rethink how you interact with others and you may learn to be a slightly kinder person. Thats pretty good going for a book.
5 reviews
November 29, 2020
I'm sorry Mark Watson, I loved you on Taskmaster. I liked the sound of this book. Took a shot and I really disliked it.
I found it to be poorly written, you think the paragraph is going one way then it meanders off somewhere else. Concepts are not well conveyed, e.g. who is talking, past or present, the layout of the geography etc. Little things, thoughts, are started but never returned to. If it was important enough to tell the reader about something, like the location of an object at a given moment, then why not resolve that thought, finish it? I found the whole thing to be disjointed, and not in a clever way.
The characters were interesting and the premise made me want to read it, but the story that unravelled was not worth my time.
Profile Image for Willo Johnston.
43 reviews2 followers
August 12, 2021
I really like Mark Watson and I really wish I liked this book more. My precis: someone threatens to do something, then nothing happens for a good 90% of the book before a different thing happens that feels inappropriate and unsatisfactory.
Profile Image for Charlotte.
142 reviews2 followers
August 22, 2020
Audio eARC received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

content warnings

Contacts follows the story of James Chiltern, a middle-aged man who has decided that he will commit suicide in Edingborough, as he sits on the sleeper train to the city he sends out a message to his contacts, telling them what he is about to do but with no indication of where he is, and then puts his phone on aeroplane mode. As friends and family frantically try to get in touch with him James is sitting serenely onboard a train, and the effects of that single message span several countries and lives.

This book is an interesting one, it deals primarily with suicide and so it is a heavy book but Mark Watson (who is also a comedian) manages to infuse this book with some lighthearted moments as well. The book switches POV many times, we hear from James himself, his ex-girlfriend, his mum, his sister, his old best friend, his flatmate. And they all recount memories of their time together and look back on what exactly went wrong, and what exactly this message means to them. They all respond differently to James' message, and not necessarily how they expected themselves to respond. It's impossible not to root for James, lots of things have gone wrong in his life recently and none of them seem to be his fault, I found myself desperate to reach into the pages of the book and give him a hug. I did appreciate Watson's choice to make it not one huge catastrophic event that had made James' make this decision, instead everything that had happened recently just seemed a bit too much, life itself seemed a bit too much, and I think that's something that a worrying proportion of the population can identify with.

I really appreciated how we hopped around the world, it gave us an insight into all these different characters and really allowed us to explore their relationship with James. I think this book did a great job of exploring how much of an impact technology can have on our relationships and the way we interact with one another. And it also showed how easy it is to imagine we have such a small impact on other people's lives that nothing in their life could possibly be our fault. In that regard, this reminded me of the only other book of Watson's I've read, Eleven (which I think I preferred a little more but couldn't say for certain having read it so long ago).

For me this book was a little let down by its ending, even as I was reading I wasn't entirely sure what ending I was wanting. I just found it a little unbelievable and shocking but not in a good way .

I do also think that this book could have perhaps been a little shorter, as it was starting to feel somewhat repetitive as we crept towards the end.

But I did think Watson's narration of the audiobook was really enjoyable and I'm keen to pick up something else by him. This was all in all a really interesting read that explored some really complex relationship dynamics. It made me sad, and it made me smile, and I would recommend if it sounds like something you'd enjoy.
Profile Image for Hanlie.
436 reviews12 followers
October 24, 2020
I enjoyed  90% of this book but I found the ending disappointing. It felt a bit rushed in the end. Everything built up nicely to a great climax but then it fizzled out for me. We got to know all the different people in James's life and how his message affected them but I wanted a bit more. I wanted to know how they dealt with the conclusion. With a tweak here and there it can be a great read. I also wanted to know a bit more about Gina and about why she made the choices she did. It was interesting to get to know all the different characters in the book and to see the different way people deal with stressful situations.

Thank you to Netgalley and Harper Collins UK for the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion
Profile Image for Chrissy.
365 reviews
February 19, 2021
3.5 stars

From the premise - a man who sends a suicide text to all the contacts in his phone and then puts his phone into flight mode so nobody can reach him to talk him out of it - I expected to spend the entire time being furiously angry at the main character for pulling a stunt like that. For that reason alone, I probably wouldn't have read this book if it hadn't been our latest book club pick. Still, I ended up liking it, despite having to put it down frequently to take a breather from the bleak situation portrayed here. And I was surprised that despite my anger at the main character, the further I got into the book the more it managed to also make me feel sympathetic towards him and put aside my anger. Mostly despite being angry about what he was doing in his present, I found myself sympathetic towards him in the flashback scenes that were shown of his past. The way the flashbacks were incorporated in the present-day action worked well and the pacing - much like the train James was on - chugged steadily along. It's not a fast-paced story, but there weren't any parts that were dragged out unduly either.

The book did a pretty good job drawing the various characters, switching between following our suicidal main character and some of the recipients of his middle-of-the-night text. There's quite a bit of suicide ideation in the main character's viewpoint, as was to be expected, but I felt like a lot of the other viewpoints nicely balance that out, showing how a message like that would affect the people receiving it. (Though in the mind of someone suicidal, the other viewpoints could also be read as more "that'll teach them, let me get my revenge this way, I want them to feel this scared and guilty" or "that's the way to get people to treat me better/appreciate me more" points in favor of suicide/suicide threats.)

Not sure how I feel about the ending.
Profile Image for Helen White.
740 reviews10 followers
March 5, 2021
Really enjoyed this. This is the book I'd hoped The Midnight Library would be. James is an overweight middle aged man, no girlfriend or close friends, stuck in a job he doesn't enjoy believing that his life has nowhere to go, so he boards the sleeper train to Edinburgh intending to kill himself there. As the train sets off he sends a goodbye text to all of his contacts then switches off the phone. During that journey we see everyone's responses to that text - the friends who feel guilty, the sibling with regrets, the flatmate determined to get in touch. While James ponders how his life has bought him to this destination.

At its heart this is a book about communication and technology. The importance of contacts both as lists in a phone and actually communicating human contacts. No spoilers for the ending.
Profile Image for Paige Belfield.
148 reviews16 followers
November 8, 2020
One of the things I love most about Mark Watson's work is how clearly it shows the ways in which humans connect, and how everyone has their own pain and problems. He makes every character so broken and wonderful and captivating, and this was the perfect book to showcase that talent with. There is so much I want to say, but honestly I can't find the words. This book has so much heart.
865 reviews21 followers
August 10, 2020
I absolutely loved the premise of this book, unique and clever. I love Mark Watson's writing and comedy. So I should have loved this book, and, in fairness, I did enjoy it. The story was so unusual and such a deep and insightful look at the way technology has changed the way we humans interact with each other. There was lots of fun but also plenty of poignancy. James was a gorgeous and relatable character and I was totally invested in the outcome. However, and this may just be my personal preference. I listen to a lot of books, (25 - 30 a month), so I feel I am speaking from a point of knowledge. I think it was about an hour too long, At 11 hours and 5 minutes it is on the long side and it could do with a bit more of a ruthless edit. I struggled to stay engaged for the entire time and found my mind wandering after about 9 hours. Also, and apologies to Mr Watson, I'm not convinced he's the best narrator for this book. I think it needs someone with a slightly more gentle voice. Again, this is just my opinion and I'm sure the book will do well on Mark Watson's name alone. I only think it could be even better.
Profile Image for Gemma.
39 reviews
January 17, 2021
After reading this book I feel entirely conned into doing so. I had never read anything by Mark Watson so it wasn't that I felt I should. I merely read the inside cover synopsis and thought it might be interesting.
I was wrong.
There are some interesting paragraphs in the book, mostly from James himself.
The end of the book doesn't acknowledge the people who helped him, even his friend who is with him after he doesn't kill himself.
It's almost like Watson got near the end of the book and decided he didn't want James to die. So the woman on the train jumped instead.
I cannot find anything good to say about this book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Girish.
832 reviews202 followers
June 18, 2021
Interesting premise, poignant observations and a story that has it's moments. Mobile phones are a critical part of most of the storylines. Wish it had been a bit more to the point to make it a quick read.

James is a good boring overweightman who has been abandoned/forgotten by most people in his life. He decides to end his life. From a moving train he sends his suicide note as an SMS to all his contacts just before midnight before switching on the flight mode and ponder his life till he reaches his destination.

Soon all of his 153 contacts receive the message. A few from his contacts are given a jolt - like his busy estranged sister, his out of touch mom, his repentent ex and his friend who cheated him. These people whom James has written off (and forgiven) are now frantically trying to locate him while recalling their part in adding to the misery of the good person.

His room mate who is a very resourceful girl soon sets up an online search party. Through this episode, each of them also end up reflecting on their own life and relationships.

You end up feeling sorry for James what with each of these people contributing to breaking him. Death by a thousand cuts it seems for the hero. It is not a happy book though it still manages to keep the tone not too serious.

Note: I would like to thank Harper Collins and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for honest review.
Profile Image for Vicki Antipodean Bookclub.
408 reviews33 followers
November 28, 2020
“You filled every second with some sort of meaning. You used every minute, every hour well. Because that felt like winning…..So for almost all of every day - all those hoarded minutes, all that time you managed - everything seemed fine. Life seemed like the truth; what came next, you could forget”
TW: Depression and suicide

James Chiltern gets on the sleeper train from London to Edinburgh with the sole intention of ending his life in the city where he scattered his father’s ashes four years before. James is a good man; kind, intelligent and curious, but a series of events have sent him spiralling. He’s been fired from a job for something that wasn’t his fault and lost his best friend in the process. His relationship has broken down and his sister, who lives in Melbourne, hasn’t spoken to him for years after an argument turned into a grudge. When he boards the train he sends a text to his 158 contacts about his plan, turns the phone to flight mode and thinks that no one will even notice when he’s gone

The predominant narrative around technology is so often about how it divides us. One aspect of Contacts that I enjoyed was the use of technology as a force for good; building a safety net around James even as he travels north completely unaware of what is unfolding across the globe from Berlin to Melbourne. Chapters where James is reflecting on his life are interspersed with chapters revealing the responses and, often regrets, of James’ close contacts. A salient reminder that, easy as it is to become absorbed in our lives, none of us can exist in a vacuum

In Contacts, Mark Watson has managed to write about depression and suicidality with a deftness and lightness of touch that makes it approachable. He opens up an important conversation, particularly perhaps for some men struggling with loneliness, body image and self-worth. I found the ending, after the build-up through the majority of the book, a little brief and almost jarringly unexpected. However, Contacts remains a tender and poignant portrayal of a man who has reached breaking point and the people that step in to hold him together
603 reviews24 followers
October 14, 2020
Contacts is a brave, original, storyline with a quirky cast of characters and one that will surprise you with its humour. James Chiltern is embarking on his final journey, uncomfortably holed up in a cell like cabin on the London to Edinburgh sleeper train. All that remains to be done is to send a last message to all his 158 contacts in his phone informing them of his intentions to take his own life. With the deed done, his message flying off into the ether, James switches his phone to flight mode to avoid any unwanted replies and begins to mentally prepare himself for his last hours on this planet. Beer and biscuits form his last meal, the calories no longer of any consequence. Yes, ok, I know it sounds grim, not the kind of scenario that lends itself to being funny BUT if you approach this novel with positivity then you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise. The main character James is easy to engage with as our the rest of the cast comprising estranged sister Sal, ex girlfriend Michaela, former best friend Karl, flat mate Steffi, his mum Jean and train stewardess Gina.

Edinburgh holds a special place in James’s heart, a place he visited regularly with his father Alan, prior to his death. Recently sacked from his job in the ticket office at Euston station, this former coder is meticulously planning his death. His friendship with fellow techie turned taxi entrepreneur Karl has ended, his girlfriend Michaela has dumped him in favour of Berlin gallery owner Phillip and his once close relationship with sister Sally has long since expired. Over the course of the night James matter of factly replays significant events in his life as his message reaches his nearest and dearest. How they respond to this most dramatic of announcements is up to the reader to discover but I can guarantee it will restore your faith in humanity and friendships and the kindness of strangers.

I applaud the author for tackling a traumatic emotive subject, one that people naturally shy away from, without allowing the storyline to become maudlin or mawkish in any way. It will not turn you into a blubbering mess; instead you’ll find yourself chuckling along with these characters as they account for the significant roles they’ve played in this man’s life. As James takes his own trip down memory lane, he materialises into a character shaped by his kindness and his love for his father rather than as an overweight unemployed unlucky in love man with a propensity to sweat! It is a thought provoking narrative sugar coated in humour that dare I say I found enjoyable and highly readable. In my opinion there’s no way of avoiding a moment or two of self reflection as you turn the pages contemplating your own amount of human contact and the value these interactions hold. But what happens when loneliness and isolation become the norm? It’s worth noting that it doesn’t require any one momentous event to bring an individual to the same decision our protagonist James has made. In his own words..”You didn’t need a big grand reason to do it. You just had to have run out of ideas, as a human, and be brave enough to admit it.” This poignant statement, for whatever reason really struck a chord with me, a weary acceptance that he’s come to the end of a long travelled road, all avenues apparently exhausted.

Without becoming too deep or analytical this is a storyline about communication on all levels, meaningful or otherwise. It reflects a society where human contact is severely lacking for many, lives instead lived online in a virtual reality, loneliness a common problem. By nature we are social creatures who require human contact for the sake of our mental wellbeing yet we are now living in a climate where we have little control over our ability/desire to nurture our friendships or embark on new relationships. It’s impossible to ignore the paradoxical nature of mobile phones and modern technology that can both increase self inflicted isolation or else provide our only means of communicating with a world that to all intents and purposes has temporarily shut down. The irony is that in this storyline mobile phone technology can be instrumental and invaluable in connecting both loved ones and strangers, across continents, uniting them in a common cause, whilst James himself feels disconnected from his fellow human beings. That they all read James’s last message with concern and alarm, galvanising them into action is the most heartwarming aspect of this novel.

I have to say I loved some of these characters with their ability to make me smile and laugh and feel sadness all at the same time. Steffi and her interactions with fellow restaurant colleague Emil are hilarious and Jean is the classic older generation figure struggling to understand how to even text or send an email which very much reminded me of my own mother! Michaela is as quirky a character as her ex but their relationship, until it ends is quite touching, her presence in James’s life a life raft in a sea of uncertainty.

Setting aside the serious nature of this novel I think it’s a witty well constructed storyline with a lead character that’s hard to forget. Ending with an unexpected sting in the tail, there was at least one other character I’d have liked to get to know better but that much is still left unresolved is an apt way to conclude this honest journey through one man’s darkest hours. For all the reasons stated above this was a 5 star read and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.My thanks as always to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ben Hewitt.
4 reviews
February 3, 2022
This was really nice and really sweet, it leant a bit heavy on the technology talk at times but in the end I think it was worth it. All of the characters were likeable and there wasn’t a chapter in it that I felt was a waste of time
Profile Image for Angelique Simonsen.
1,266 reviews22 followers
December 2, 2021
This was a good concept. It fell a little flat about 3/4s of the way through for me but I'm glad I persevered because the ending wasn't what I expected
Profile Image for Lucy.
Author 1 book8 followers
November 13, 2020
Mark Watson is, in my opinion, one of the sharpest, funniest and most articulate artists out there. As a kid my family spent summers at the Edinburgh Fringe and I remember discovering Watson for the first time sometime in my teens. He was hilarious then and he’s only got better since. His 24 hour comedy events are the stuff of legend and I’ve got a deluge of memories of sitting at the Pleasance Dome or in strange Edinburgh lecture halls, drunk with excitement and fatigue, as an ever perky Mark Watson leapt around the room. Four years ago I saw his newest show Flaws at the fringe. It was one of the first things I booked, even before I was on the train to Scotland. It was darker and sadder than his previous shows, incredibly personal and yet, still, funny. So funny.

As a novelist, Watson isn’t simply a comedian giving another form of writing a go. He’s a really, really good novelist. His books have the same blend of offbeat creativity, humour and thoughtfulness that characterises his stand-up. When my husband and I moved in together and unpacked our books we were delighted to find that between us we had the full Mark Watson oeuvre! OK, I’ll stop with the backstory and get on with the review!

Contacts, Watson’s newest novel, is about a thoroughly decent man named James Chiltern. James, for all his goodness and hard work in life, has found himself in a dark place. His girlfriend has left him, he’s fallen out with his sister, his Father has died and he’s been fired, by his best friend, from the job he loves. At —- he boards the sleeper train, texts all 156 contacts in his phone to say goodbye, switches it off and settles in for the journey to Edinburgh where he’ll end his life.

It’s a shocking premise, setting the stakes very high from the off, but it’s the gentle unravelling of the story that’s so compelling. The book switches between James rooting about in his memories and the characters receiving the text. From his estranged sister, now living in Australia, to his widowed Mother, his ex-girlfriend, ex-best friend and his current flatmate, everyone has their own reaction to the message. The question of who takes responsibility for James’ predicament, who decides to do something proactive and who excuses themselves from the responsibility, all this is masterfully explored by Watson.

Suicide is a tough subject to explore and although we do get insight into James’ state of mind, it’s not the only thing driving the novel. In a move that steps away from James’ immediate pain to also look at the sense of helplessness and disbelief felt by his friends and family, the story oscillates between the gravity of his situation and the way in which such a bombshell forces others to rethink what they know about the people in their lives. It’s a terrifying thought at its core but the regular flashbacks to revisit happier moments in James’ life means we get respite from the horror of what’s unfolding.

It’s the reaction of his sister Sally that I most connected with. Halfway across the world in Australia where she lives with her husband and has a successful career, she’s a woman with her own demons and flaws. As someone who deals with these by constructing a hard exterior around herself, filling her time, achieving, it turns out she’s not a woman best suited to grappling with such a terrifying, delicate situation.

I’m sure it was difficult for Watson to write the ending to this book. James himself notes during his train journey that he anticipates responses to his message. He expects people to try to stop him. But he doesn’t see that as proof of anything other than a panicked attempt to assuage their own guilt. He knows that ultimately it won’t change any of the reasons why he is where he is. Part of the magic of this book though are the surprises along the way. Who of his contacts engage. How it is that they do that. What their reasons are for doing so. The impact that the scenario has on their own relationships. I still don’t know how I feel about the ending he did decide on. No spoilers but I did feel that the decision, though interesting and nuanced, didn’t quite gel with the rest of the novel for me. That said, I highly recommend Contacts. It’s an easy reading, hard hitting little gem.
Profile Image for Annalise Masad.
45 reviews
May 10, 2022
I never imagined loving this book as much as I did and although it did take me a while to get through (purely because I need to be in the right state of mind to read something so heavy), it was amazing and truly heartbreaking. It reminded me of the responsibilities each of have and how there’s not much of an excuse to not care for anyone no matter who they are
Profile Image for Sara.
56 reviews5 followers
January 15, 2021
I wanted to like this book so much, but it raised some mental health red flags for me. Although Mark Watson says in his acknowledgments he wanted to show how technology had the power to bring us together, so many incidents leading up to the premise showed how it had created more loneliness and disconnection that for me did not outweigh its upside.
I was also surprised to see (in my Kindle version) the publisher had not included links to suicide support lines. While this book is touted as 'heart-warming' and 'life-affirming' I do worry it could also be triggering for some - particularly as the sub-plot with Gina seemed to have zero consequence for the characters this story.
Clearly everyone else seems to love this book, so this is just a suggestion if you are feeling vulnerable - and I am certainly not against tackling the very important subject of suicide in fiction.
Profile Image for Vera.
105 reviews
July 1, 2021
2.5 stars.

I knew this book would be emotionally heavy for me, but I found the plot so intriguing that I had to give it a go.

I was quite disappointed by the ending which felt rushed and unfinished.

I didn't like the fact that it was meant to feel hopeful as an ending, when James lived. Because the woman did commit suicide, and that was just as horrible. It felt like we weren't supposed to care about that as much, just because we didn't know her as well. It felt really weird to me.

But it was an okay book and a page-turner, I was interested in what would happen next.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
338 reviews1 follower
September 13, 2021
I found that the story just wasn't strong enough to support the theme it was trying to address, which in itself was interesting. It began with promise, but ultimately didn't really go anywhere with most of the characters and the ending was very unsatisfying. The jumping about with chapters of POV also annoyed me at times, when you were in one person's head and then it would switch to another. Overall it just didn't deliver sufficiently for me.
Profile Image for Char Furniss.
79 reviews30 followers
August 30, 2021
It was just… OK. Had the potential to be an interesting story and concept but it was quite poorly written in places. Over explaining things that didn’t need to be explained, little remarks that weren’t clever or funny but were clearly intended to be. Also felt it somewhat trivialised the main topic of suicide in places.
Profile Image for Hannah stressedreader .
201 reviews33 followers
September 11, 2022
I read a book by Mark Watson back in 2019 and it totally took me by surprise 😮 i really enjoyed it and since then I've bought a couple of his other books but this is the first one I've read since.

First of all, i absolutely love the plot. The synopsis alone made it sound like a book i would absolutely love and a high possibility i would rate it five stars 🌟🤩

It started off a little slow and took me a while to get in to it but once i did i loved hearing James' story and everything that went wrong for him. It was also extremely heartwarming to see how many people tried their best to reach him. I hope if i sent this text that the same would be done for me 🥰

I love that the ending didn't go how you thought it was going to end up. Sometimes happy endings can be too happy.. but this was perfect.

Great book and will definitely read more by Mr Watson 👍
Profile Image for Katy Kelly.
2,054 reviews73 followers
January 9, 2021
Mental health, connections, decisions.

3.5 stars.

I'll state now that I have a slightly skewed view of the subject matter at the moment. A beloved family member committed suicide a few months ago. It's still upsetting me regularly, it hasn't left me, but it's a subject I was also wanting to read about: for insight, for general interest as a reader/reviewer into how others see the decision-making process. But please bear that in mind with some of my comments.

James sends a text message to everyone in his contact list from a train. Stating his intention to end his own life. He turns off his phone. So we see and he doesn't as people he knows all round the world read his statement and react in various ways. And we also see the guilt, the horror, the attempts made to contact him, to stop him.

The mother who feels she didn't give him the attention she gave his sister. The sister who fought with him and now lives half a world away. The ex-girlfriend who left him for another man. The best friend who fired him. The flatmate who barely talked to him.

Can anyone reach out to him, make contact, before it's too late?

James reflects on his recent life and how he came to this decision. This part was quite key for me - just what did it take to tip the balance for him? It wasn't one event, one person that causes James to make his mind up. A combination over time set him on his chosen path to the train station.

It does highlight a lot of issues for men in particular though - not only failing relationships but the fact that James is the stoic sort who keeps his feelings under wraps, who worries about body image and weight as much as anyone else, who is hurt by rudeness and slights, who slowly gives up hope and stops trying. This hit home for me, and the author brings these out. James is a lovely person - the sort who knows the answers to pub quiz questions, who likes listening to people and learning about them - he's not done anything 'wrong' in his life, it's just dealt him a bad hand in terms of circumstances. He speaks to a conductor on his train, someone who seems a little like him, Gina, who needs someone to talk to herself. Even in his own state of despair he still has the kind of nature that wants to help.

I liked the two perspectives: that of the person preparing to end his life and also those all suddenly reflecting on their own mistakes and errors in letting it get to this stage, realising they could have acted differently, realising they may have played a role in James' decision. It will resonate with many, that we all let contact slide, let mistakes fester, could do more to stay in touch and check on our friends.

This was all great. It was the denouement that riled me, heavily. Even without a personal connection to this story, the ending felt wrong, rushed and out of place with what had gone on before.

The suicide scene arrives of course, and with it someone who tries to stop James. Now is this either realistic, or what the reader would want to see - someone who stops a suicide attempt by doing the deed themselves? I couldn't believe what I was reading. It just felt like both a cop-out and not justified. His own prospects being better than hers, the incentive to help him, does one attempt to save someone else but then do the same thing?? It almost cheapened the efforts he'd gone to in justifying his own thought process, and cheapened the life of the new victim that we hadn't been able to see much of.

Now surely you'd want the 'happy' ending of one of James' friends or family to mount a rescue and reach him in time? And there were certainly plenty of candidates and ways for them to connect with each other, work out where James was, and reach him. But does Watson give us that closure and pleasure, of regret, forgiveness, redemption and hope? I'll not say more, but I was NOT happy with his chosen conclusion.

While the subject brought out into the open is a good thing, in the current climate of rising mental health issues and my own personal experiences of similar situations, seeing personal feelings reflected in the characters was a positive, but the ending Watson gives us did not satisfy or soothe.

Great premise, brave subject matter, at times very funny and moving. Rushed, unexpected and a cheat of an ending.

With thanks to Netgalley for providing a sample reading copy.
Profile Image for Anna.
167 reviews26 followers
August 25, 2020
Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the ARC of this book.

I have an enormous amount of good will towards Mark Watson. He is one of my favourite comedians and he has a nervous, vulnerable energy which makes him difficult to criticise. His books always have intelligent concepts and he writes in an understated, observational, wry manner. He brings clear elements of his own personality into his books. For example, this book is about a man who is planning to commit suicide, was written following a period of mental struggle for Watson when he had struggled with alcohol use following the break up of his marriage. It feels very personal, even though the character’s struggles are different to Watson’s own experience. I feel somewhat protective towards Watson, knowing that he has been going through a difficult time and he chose to write about suicide as a result,

The book starts with the lead character, James, texting his entire phone contacts list to tell them he is planning suicide. It then follows several of the people who receive this text and their reactions as they try to find a way to prevent his suicide. It’s an interesting premise, although makes the book harder to get into as each new chapter from a new person’s perspective feels a bit like starting the book afresh.

The book is a study of how important human contacts are, how our actions affect each other, how important it is to stay in contact with each other and how mobile phones and social media, which have the potential to make us more in contact with our loved ones than ever before can somehow have the opposite result.

It is an intelligent look at what might make a person suicidal, how the build up of small things can affect our mental health so that from the outside something which seems trivial may be the tipping point too another person’s mental well-being.

It is not particularly exciting to read and the ending is fairly predictable apart from an event involving a train conductor which I felt was jarring and required more explanation, although I think that’s probably the point of its inclusion. However, if you like Mark Watson’s voice and his frustrated, witty observations you will also like this book. I struggle to say enjoy as it is hard to enjoy a book with suicide as once of its central themes.

The audiobook is read by Mark Watson himself. I think this is probably a mistake, he has a slightly odd way off speaking, so that, even though he wrote the words, it sometimes sounds like he is putting the emphasis on the wrong part of the sentence. He doesn’t really make much of an attempt to do the accents required, so it probably would have been better to get a professional, experienced narrator to read the book. His narration doesn’t impair the enjoyment of the book but I feel a professional may have been able to breathe a bit more life into the narration.
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