Books by Neil Bartlett

Released: Oct. 28, 2014

"This all feels familiar from various Dickens stories—the orphan, the orphan's patrons, the illusions, the unfriendly businessmen, the saviors—and the 1950s setting isn't enough to refresh the great expectations."
In post-World War II England, an orphan named Reggie Rainbow struggles to make ends meet as a "disappearance boy"—the invisible helper of a struggling illusionist. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 13, 1997

In his debut novel, Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (1991), Bartlett explored contemporary gay themes in a shadowy fable-like setting. Here, the background is richly specific—London in the 1920s and '50s—and the subject, treated with a moody obsessiveness reminiscent of Ruth Rendell (in her Barbara Vine mode), is the repression and secrecy then intrinsic to most homosexual lives. The narrator is Mr. Page, a middle-aged clerk who, alone in his tiny flat on Christmas Eve, 1956 (when arrests for sodomy are filling the headlines), tries to capture on paper, in precise detail, the turning point of his life: his encounter with Clive Vivian during the winter of 1924. The two 20-year-olds meet as strangers on Jermyn Street, where shabby Page, a junior employee at Selfridge's, visits the Turkish baths. Well-dressed Clive is the heir to a famous mansion on Brooke Street, but the two men look remarkably alike and immediately, silently, recognize their shared ``situation.'' The subject is never discussed; Page comes to the mansion for a party, then tea, only to find the great house uncared-for and Clive alternately friendly, rude, mysterious. Finally, after Clive appears to have a breakdown of sorts at his 21st-birthday dinner, Page returns to the house once more—and realizes, when he catches a glimpse of Clive and his young blond servant, that Clive is about to choose passion and honesty over society's approval. Despite a tone and pace that suggest suspense, Page's churning reminiscences don't build up to a genuine surprise or revelation; the novel fizzles out a bit as its rather didactic shape becomes apparent. But Bartlett's storytelling gifts are amply confirmed here—thanks to expertly voiced narration (Page's prim restraint giving way to occasional bursts of sarcasm or erotic fantasy) and to a masterly evocation of time and place, with the house on Brooke Street an effective symbol of Victorian values in disarray. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

An erotic fable, chockablock with literary allusion, about a homosexual subculture obsessed with a young man and his older lover. British writer Bartlett's fable—by turns graphic and romantic—traces the growth of the community from narcissism to tragedy and an apprehension of mortality. The narrator—the voice of the subculture—writes from a nameless city about the affair and eventual ``marriage'' of Boy and O, his older lover. The action centers on The Bar, run by Madame, a sort of earth mother protector. When the Boy arrives at The Bar, it's a great event to the narrator and his group, transforming their existence. The Boy, with his black shoes and shoebox full of letters from ``Father,'' would ``go home with anyone really.'' He's initiated by Miss Public House, who teaches him the ``repertoires of what you could and couldn't do....'' O was always at Madame's right hand, though never intimate with her. ``By sheer force of will power,'' Mother and the group try to push O and the Boy (``our two greatest beauties'') together. Finally, they become lovers, ``the kind of wanting which extends beyond the night into the day.'' Against a backdrop of gay-bashing in the vicinity, O and the Boy carry on their courtship, with O indulging various ``nocturnal speeches,'' before they announce their engagement, have a great costume party, and marry. This Family then takes sick ``Father'' home, and the Boy tends him through the stages of his illness until he becomes aphasic and dies, whereupon The Bar shuts for the seven days of the Family's mourning, and Madame (now Mother) leaves. But O ``will always be handsome. And Boy will always be beautiful, I think.'' This one survives some first-novel tics—mostly self-conscious literariness and cutesiness—to succeed as a celebration of homosexual love. Read full book review >