Book review: Contacts by Mark Watson

Wednesday, December 16, 2020 Permalink

Contacts by Mark Watson is going to be hard to review because though I enjoyed it – to an extent – my main issue with it is the content (underlining premise) itself. I can’t decide whether I think it’s ill-conceived, irresponsible and totally inappropriate or perhaps cathartic or helpful.

Either way it needs a big trigger warning as the entire book is about someone planning to suicide and how they got to that point.

Book review: Contacts by Mark WatsonContacts
by Mark Watson
Published by Harper Collins
on 03/09/2020
Source: Harper Collins
Genres: General Fiction, Humour
ISBN: 0008346976
Pages: 384

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.

We really should reach a point at which we feel sorry for James, but I’m not sure I ever got there. He believes he’s hit rock bottom. We learn he had a falling out with his sister, his former girlfriend left him and his best friend sacked him. And he’s gained weight he’d previously lost.

And I’m not implying that’s insufficient cause because I definitely know things impact us and affect us differently. We have different levels of resilience and we often never know when someone is struggling with depression or anxiety or other mental illness.

It doesn’t matter at all. The whole point was that the time of things mattering was over. The misery of it, the physical ache in his muscles that had come from failing, over and over again – those were a few hours away from being over, for good. p 99

Obviously…. as a human being who isn’t entirely sociopathic, I didn’t want the fictional James to go through with his plans but the fact he sends his text message HOURS before he intends to take his life is seemingly a call for help, or for someone to stop him. Although he does turn his phone off. Or tries to. And he doesn’t wallow in the victim mentality – as in, they’ll all feel bad and that’ll show them, but touches on it by thinking about the impact it will have.

He was going to give people something they’d remember, act on. A harsh way of doing it, perhaps. But life was harsh, wasn’t it? Life was harsh, that was why he was here.

He was doing people a favour. It didn’t matter if they understood it straight away.  p 304

Of course the book is about those ‘left behind’ as much as James and we spend time with his sister Sally as well as his mother Jean. We meet his flatmate Steffi with whom he isn’t friendly but who takes on a huge social media coordination role to try to find and save James. And then there’s his ex girlfriend, now living with her seemingly unpleasant new German boyfriend, and James’s former best mate and boss Karl.

I didn’t hate this book. It’s well-written and I enjoyed meeting Sally and the story arc around her work and her assistant, as well as his widowed mother’s relationship with a new partner while still missing her husband. However ultimately, I really didn’t care enough about James to feel any sense of trepidation. There’s a twist at the end, which startled me and—in some ways—also felt a little unfair.

My natural instinct on reading this book was that it was all in very bad taste. I detest the idea that people contemplating suicide might think they too could have their friends panicked and desperately trying to save them ‘in time’. Or perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about and people will read it and consider the futility of a life-lost and the transitory nature of some of our problems.

This book is written by comedian Mark Watson and though James’ thoughts and experiences and his friends’ and families’ reflection on their relationship with James are often raw and poignant, (I’m afraid) the topic itself meant it really did not hit or even tickle my funny bone.

Contacts by Mark Watson was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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