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The Disappearance Boy

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  172 ratings  ·  40 reviews
A man. A woman. A disappearance boy. This is the story of Reggie, an illusionist’s assistant, and the performances that come to define him.

Reggie Rainbow got his name at the orphanage. He had polio as a child, and seventeen years of using crutches have given him strong hands and nimble fingers. It is this dexterity, perfect for illusions, which first led Mr. Brookes to hir
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 28th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA (first published July 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  172 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing

“And he still thinks of sweetness as something you have to steal when nobody’s looking”
It’s the beautifully told story of Reggie finding himself, looking up, opening up himself and getting ready for life, for love.

At first I found the voice over style of writing a bit peculiar then it became familiar. Part of the story itself like I had a sort of magician (Bartlett) there to make sure that I saw our Disappearance Boy - Reggie and I did see him. He, who was so skilled in keeping his head down
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, lgbtq, favorites
"The future, eh? Here's how it's done;" - the suspended last sentence in Neil Bartlett's wonderful novel made me feel like I was leaping into space. There's a breathtaking sense of freedom and possibility that runs under the surface of Reggie's (and Pam's) story.

From the very first page in the novel when we (view spoiler), his character became a vivid and powerful presence in my mind. Reggie is a dodger, he keeps him
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read "Skin Lane", an earlier Neil Bartlett novel, in June 2016 and absolutely loved it. Click here to read my review. "Skin Lane" captures vividly the atmosphere of the changing London of the 1960s, and Neil Bartlett's descriptions of the City of London itself - the churches, the markets, the dark alleyways - felt very accurate and tallied with my own knowledge of the area.

When I discovered that "The Disappearance Boy" was set in Brighton (one of my favourite places) in the 1950s (one of my
Nov 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
Sometimes random book selections don't quite work out. Despite the striking cover and an intriguing summary, this one just didn't sing for me. It's actually the sort of book that didn't work in spite of all it's positive qualities. I mean it had historic London of 1953, it had magic (as in magician style magic, not supernatural), the writing was quite good, but overall it fell flat. Mainly due to the heavy relentless presence of an omniscient narrator. It's a story that is told to readers as opp ...more
Jul 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer-lit
An excellent novel. Neil Bartlett's world often appears a little different from our own, but that is only at the outset of his stories. Once we immerse ourselves in the lives of his characters it all begins to seem quite familiar. Especially so if you happen to be an illusionist or one of his assistants, in this case.

Reggie is the assistant to Mr Brookes, an unseen part of the act, costume supervisor and general dogsbody. Sandra is currently the girl who 'disappears' during the act, but she is s
Marc Nash
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't understand why Neil Bartlett isn't a more appreciated writer, I've never read a bad book by him yet, 3 of the 4 are 5 stars, the other a 4 star read.

This is the book of a master of his craft. A stage illusionist, two glamorous assistants and casual bed mates) and his invisible-in-the-dark male stage assistant Reggie, who Bartlett inflects with real emotions as they dance around one another in a very strange virtual/alternative family unit - alternative for 1953. For we are on the eve of
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Pretty good. It's the story of an illusionist's assistant in Brighton in the summer of 1953 (it ends the morning after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II). I mostly liked the time period in which the story is set, and the relationship between the protagonist, Reggie, and the female star of the show.
Oct 20, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh this book. I thought I would breeze through it because the description really caught my attention; but boy was I wrong. Took me over a week to push through it and this is a fairly short book at 250+ pages.
The story is set in the 1950's and revolves around Reggie, who is a strange, young man with a limp due to polio when he was a child. He works with Mr. Brookes, who is a magician, as his back stage assistant. Reggie is really the magician here, since he does all the work the spectators don't
Jo Marjoribanks
Feb 25, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There are books that are character-driven, books that are plot-driven, and books that manage to be both. This one definitely tries to be character-driven, which means it should feature interesting and engaging characters with compelling stories to tell. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring myself to care about any of them and found them annoying and uninteresting. The second person narrative really put me off and left little room for my imagination. The narrator was so busy telling me exactly what to ...more
Rudy Russell
Aug 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Bought this on the strength of reading one of NB's poems, I think called Friends (?!?) which perfectly evoked the concept of queer family. This is the first of his novels I've read and I enjoyed it but it wasn't exactly to my taste, the level of detail in description and fast paced plot for me getting in the way of my need for excessive contemplation and minimal action. Still looking forward to reading more of his though.
Nov 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Neil Bartlett is a genius. If only he wrote more. This is more of a novella than the meatier "Skin and Bones," but it was still a splendid read.

The empathy and ties that bring people together under duress and abuse ultimately speak to the arc of the universe toward justice. But that doesn't make reading about oppression any easier.
May 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
I think I understood it? A novel about being homosexual and how it makes a person feel, written as a story of magic. But it was just flat out boring.
Mike Clarke
Distraction buggery: he’s a proper theatre creature, of course, and it’s the love of the stage and its craft that infuses Monsieur’s fourth novel with a captivating warmth and affection. “He knew a proper first night fuck up when he saw one” is a line that even those of us who’ve only ever dabbled in the rankest of amateur histrionics can identify with. Bartlett is a quick-change artist of high order.
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I did really love this book. At first I thought it was a lot of glitz and pretty writing to make up for an otherwise pretty standard story, but then I can be a bit of a pessimist. As the story unwound I was reminded to have a bit of faith. It was a beautiful story with one of those endings that fills you with warmth. A new favourite and a book I will keep near at hand.
Deanna Mott
Feb 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
Boring! This book was hard to get through. The writing was so dull. I made myself finish it in the hopes that somewhere along the way it was going to get better or pick up momentum, but sadly it never really did.
Aenea Jones
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-fiction
I had no problems with the writing style as some others, unfortunately I never really got interested in the story or characters.
Anne Marshall
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: contemporary
Unusual , gripping, moving , great characters and evokes the atmosphere of Coronation era Brighton superbly .
C. Todd White
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lit-european, lgbt
Neil Bartlett’s new novel, set in England in spring of 1953 in the days prior to the coronation of Elizabeth II, is part coming-of-age and part twisted romance.

The primary protagonist is Reggie Rainbow, a polio survivor who works for an illusionist, Mr Brookes, facilitating an act of disappearance whereby a woman is bound by red silk, confined in a mirror-lined box, spun about and made to vanish only to reappear from off stage as fully transformed as Eliza Doolittle. The act, however, has been
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The Disappearance Boy, by Neil Bartlett

A quiet, but interesting story, about a crippled young man who has somehow made his living following around an aging and morally destitute magician, as his backstage hand, and assistance; but never to be allowed on the stage. A wonderful young girl suddenly comes into their lives, and is hired to be the magician's onstage assistant and offstage lover, and their lives are not the same, ever again.

A bit slow at the start, as the narrator describes how life is
Wendy Cosin
Oct 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Reggie has been an orphan since birth; most of the book is set when he is 23, living in coastal England in 1953. He works with an illusionist, who does shows that are played between burlesque acts. Reggie's role is to remain invisible on stage while facilitating the disappearance of the glamorous magician's assistant. His invisibility tracks several other aspects of his life.

The Disappearance Boy is well-written. The period atmosphere is strong and scenes are described well enough to be easily
Nov 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Reggie is an orphan (mother dead, father unknown) and has a bad limp due to polio in 1953 England. At the age of 23 he is working as something of a technician for a vaudeville magician whose signature illusion is making a woman disappear and then reappear in different clothing. The magician is rather dictatorial and a consummate philanderer. Reggie is now, starting to give in to his homosexual orientation but feels a sisterly love toward the new girl in the act who is getting involved with the m ...more
James Aschbacher
Mar 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
I love magic and stories about magicians, so when I saw this at the library, I thought it would be a fun, fast read at only 278 pages. Well, I would call it more of a slog. The magician in question, Mr. Brookes, is an old dandy and his revue consists mainly of one large illusion to wow his audiences. That illusion is described to death, chapter after chapter. And then when he decides to change the act for the Coronation of the Queen in 1953, he uses the same illusion but changes the costumes! An ...more
Andy Weston
Feb 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Set around the coronation in 1953, which is beautifully described, this is a real slice of how life was at that time in Brighton and London.

Good books about magic and the theatre are rare. Over the last years I can think of two exceptional ones, A Night at the Circus, and Carter Beats The Devil. Bartlett's brave novel is almost as good. As the best novels are of course, this is about so much more than the theatre, although it is firmly centred around The Grand theatre in Brighton in 1953.

Adam Dunn
Aug 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: glbt
A charming, engaging book that shares a vibrant story of theatre life in 1953 England. The hero 23 year-old Reggie works as a stage-hand with a magician and wanders through life looking for his place and purpose as a gay man in 1953.

The book was well done, a little simplistic, but a much more worthy addition to Bartlett's literary canon than his first two books. Not as amazing as Skin Lane but worth a look for a very pleasant distraction.

The errors in the ebook copy I bought from Amazon on Aug 1
Huw Griffiths
Dec 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
After reading this, Skin Lane and/or Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall remain my favourite novels by Neil Bartlett, but this is also very beautiful. Bartlett's usual interests - the stories that attach themselves to gay men's lives; the histories of mid twentieth century gay life; the relationship between these and ideas of family, marriage and an open-ended futurity - they are all here, and couched in the kind of fable-like narrative that would be familiar to any of his readers. At a time when ...more
Drew Michel
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
The premise of the book and brief summary made it sound like this was going to be a very exciting/interesting read. However, after finishing the book I realized that I just wasn't very invested in the characters. There was a point towards the end that should have been a great climactic moment for one of the characters, but it kind of just happened, because I didn't really care too much about that person. After 278 pages, I somehow didn't know them enough to be happy and celebrate their success o ...more
Nov 21, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm not sure what to think of this book. I found it a bit disappointing, when the synopsis promised so much. This story of a small young man crippled by polio, who uses his disability to assist a magic act, really got bogged down and boring in the middle and also terribly confusing in what it was really about. I wasn't sure if it was sinister or sad and I really struggled to remain focused on where it might be leading. To explain why would be to add a spoiler - and I usually avoid those in my re ...more
Aug 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got this book in a giveaway to review and I am so glad.I have been looking forward to this book for some time now!!!An original mystery set in the early 1950s that is focused on a magician and his assistants. I don't wan't to give to much a way but, it is definitely a good read and makes me wan't to read more From Neil Bartlett. I also liked the References to Places and areas in Brighton/ I used to live in Hove so I like being able to Recognize things that were in the book.
Ilyhana Kennedy
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it
An entertaining read, no great literary achievement but no slouch either. The narrative is well told. The author steeps the reader in his insight into a life lived with disability. He takes the reader back to an era of seeming innocence and simplicity.
I did wonder at the ending. It seemed curious that there was a need to punish rather than simply make a clean exit.
Sep 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Although a nice evocation of early 50's UK, some intriguing characters, and Bartlett's always well-written prose, I just found the story and limited plot a bit ho-hum.... The fact it took me an entire week to slog through a 278 page novel is an indication it WASN'T very gripping.
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Born in 1958, Neil Bartlett has spent twenty-five years at the cutting edge of British gay culture. His ground-breaking study of Oscar Wilde, Who Was That Man? paved the way for a queer re-imagining of history ; his first novel, Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall, was voted Capital Gay Book of The Year; his second, Mr Clive and Mr Page, was nominated for the Whitbread Prize. Both have since been tr ...more

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