Cover image for The disappearance boy
The disappearance boy
Bartlett, Neil, 1958- , author.
Publication Information:
London : Bloomsbury Circus, 2014.
Physical Description:
282 pages ; 22 cm
Reggie Rainbow is an angry young man who treads the backstage corridors of down-at-heel theatres for a living. Childhood polio has left him with a limp, but his strong arms and nimble fingers are put to perfect use behind the scenes, helping the illusionist Mr Brookes to 'disappear' a series of glamorous assistants twice nightly. But in 1953, bookings for magic acts are scarce, even in London. So when Mr Brookes is unexpectedly offered a slot at the Brighton Grand, Reggie finds himself back out on the road and living in a strange new town. The sea air begins to work its own peculiar kind of magic, and, as the bunting goes up in the streets outside the theatre for the Grand's forthcoming Coronation spectacular, Reggie begins to wonder just how much of his own life is an act--and what might have happened to somebody who disappeared from that life long ago.
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A little boy, no more than eight or nine years old, once stepped on a nail sticking out from the train tracks near Bishopstone. He didn't seem to hear the train, but then it's not like anyone would miss Reggie Rainbow, who got his name from the orphanage. Now, at the age of 23, Reggie has strong hands and nimble fingers from using crutches after getting polio as a child. It is this dexterity, perfect for illusions, which led Mr Brookes to hire him in the first place. Reggie has been a disappearance boy for years, making a long string of alluring assistants disappear while Mr Brookes performs to the audience.
The only problem is that in 1953 the public no longer seem interested in illusionists and bookings are slim, even in London. So when Mr Brookes gets a new slot at the Brighton Grand, Reggie finds himself in a strange town with dark and unexplored corners. But it is the arrival of Pamela Rose, a beautiful new assistant, which truly turns his life upside down. As he peels away the layers of her own performance and the Grand's spectacular Coronation show edges ever closer, Reggie begins to wonder how much of his life has always been an act and sets out to find somebody who disappeared from his life long ago.
Set on the dusty stages and under the dwindling lights of variety theatre, Th e Disappearance Boy i s a masterful and dark tale of blood, sweat and everything else that stays behind the curtain.

Author Notes

Neil Bartlett is major figure of British theatre, as well as a novelist. In 1982 he set up his first company, the theatrical collective 'The 1982 Theatre Company' and in 1994 was appointed Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith, a position he held until 2005. In 1988, he published his first book, Who Was That Man?, a study of Oscar Wilde, and has since then published three acclaimed novels- Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, Mr Clive and Mr Page and Skin Lane. In 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Brookes University Oxford in recognition of his body of work and of his pioneering and continuing commitment to gay culture and civil rights, and in 2000 he was awarded an OBE for services to the theatre.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The year is 1953 and 23-year-old Reggie Rainbow is working as a disappearance boy, an assistant to an illusionist, Mr. Brookes, whose signature act is making his female assistant, Pam, disappear. A childhood bout with polio has left Reggie short and slight with one leg smaller than the other. And he has a strange habit: whenever the act takes him to a new town, he immediately searches out the local cemetery, where, finding a suitable headstone, he imagines it is his long-dead mother's resting place so that, each Sunday, he can talk to her. Yes, it's an illusion, but Reggie is lonely and, orphaned early, he has never known love. Perhaps that is why, though he's gay, he has bonded with Pam. Or perhaps it's because, in an odd way, she reminds him of the mother he has never known. This British import is haunting in its evocation of a long-gone time and a world the illusion act that is teetering on the brink of extinction. The author's old-fashioned habit of addressing the reader directly in an almost avuncular way draws one into the story and forges an empathetic connection with the characters, whether sympathetic (Reggie and Pam) or not (the caddish Mr. Brookes). The author has an unusual gift for showing that ordinary lives are, in their way, extraordinary. You might almost say it's magic.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

What a delightfully quirky, eccentric, and lovable character Bartlett ( Skin Lane ) has given us in this novel's hero, Reggie Rainbow. An orphaned young man with polio, Reggie finds himself in Brighton as part of a magic act in the dying days of vaudeville, just prior to Queen Elizabeth's June 1953 coronation. Neglected and impoverished throughout his childhood, he nonetheless has a huge heart. This quality helps Reggie attach himself to Teddy Brookes Esq., a scheming roué of an illusionist. Teddy is used to working his charms on lovely young female assistants, whom he discards with abandon until the street-smart Pamela Rose joins the act. While Pamela embarks on a romance with Teddy, she also becomes close friends with Reggie. Bartlett is adept at portraying the seamy atmosphere promised by the book's milieu, but there is nothing clichéd here. The most touching detail is Reggie's habit of visiting cemeteries and looking for tombstones that bear the date of his birth--his mother died giving birth to him. The character's growing awareness that he is gay, meanwhile, is handled with commendable matter-of-factness. He and Pamela make a winning duo, and the bond between them is life-affirming. Agent: Clare Conville, Conville & Walsh Literary Agency (U.K.). (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Mr. Edward (Teddy) Brookes has all the makings of a cad; he's ingratiating to a fault, always impeccably attired, and lives a lie. He's a magician by trade, hoping to breathe new life into an old turn at a seedy theater in Brighton in the lead-up to Princess Elizabeth's 1953 coronation. His smiling, attractive, and very pliable new assistant is Pamela Rose. Needless to say, Teddy has a history with his assistants. Out of sight, but very much at the center of this character-driven novel by the author of The House on Brooke Street and Skin Lane is Reggie, an orphan, crippled by polio, and a homosexual (to use the term of the period) at a time when that was a punishable offense. He's the "disappearance boy" whose job is to be always at the right place in good time to insure that the showier parts of Teddy's act shine. The shifting relationships among these three characters are the stuff of the novel. The big reveal when it comes has been well prepared for and satisfies. VERDICT This is a lovingly rendered snapshot of a vanished time and place with menace always lurking at the edges. Bartlett, who is also a playwright and has been artistic director of a major London playhouse, has written the perfect book for LGBT readers who are also fans of comedy duo Penn and Teller.-Bob Lunn, Kansas City, MO (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.