Review: Vivien Horler
Contacts, by Mark Watson (HarperCollins/Jonathan Ball)
A suicide note is something you can write in advance of your actual death and then leave it where it will be found later. James, however, decides to send a text message, and there is a problem with that: you can’t press “send” when you’re dead.
In this bittersweet novel, James is a relatively young man whose life (and his body) have gone pear-shaped. His wife has left him for another man, his best friend, who is also his boss, has fired him, and they’re no longer speaking.
He’s found a new job in a railway ticket office and hates it. He is a kind man who likes to cultivate relationships with people, but there’s not much opportunity for that when you’re selling them a second-class return to Southampton.
He was close to his dad, who has died, and was close to his sister, but they’ve fallen out too. He shares a flat with a nice enough young waitress called Steffi, but they come and go with little in the way of friendship.
So James decides to kill himself, and sends his 158 contacts his suicide note.
You would think this might prompt some of his contacts to try to get hold of him, but he’s been quite clever. Having pressed “send” at 23.55pm on a train from London to Edinburgh, he puts his phone on to flight mode, and settles down for his last night.
He is in a sleeping car, and has brought two pork pies, a packet of chocolate digestives, and a six-pack of beer for his final meal, while he reflects on his life. He assumes people will try to contact him, including his former wife Michaela, his great (former) friend Karl, with whom he had raced around all the Monopoly squares in London, and his sister in Melbourne.
But he knows they can’t reach him, and have no idea he is on a train to Scotland. “I resign from life,” he thinks to himself. There is a sensation of a load released. After the deed, “there would just be a full stop, and relief.”
Steffi, who works nights, gets James’s message despite the late hour. So does his sister in Melbourne. She rings their mum – who doesn’t have a mobile phone and who hasn’t had the message. Michaela, who is out at a club, gets the message too, as does Karl, who is working.
And they are all forced to look back over their relationships with James and try to figure out what went wrong, and what to do. Meanwhile the train is racing through the night, due to reach Edinburgh shortly after 7am.
I haven’t read any Mark Watson novels before – he’s written eight – but if you enjoy Nick Hornby you’d probably enjoy this.
There is real tension as we hope against hope Steffi, Karl and the rest will be able to reach James in time. This is a touching, sometimes gently funny story about a good man whose life has somehow slipped from his control.