The Novel as Magic Act

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Disappearance BoyThe Disappearance Boy
by Neil Bartlett
Bloomsbury. 282 pages, $26.

 

“ALL I’D SAY by way of a warning is that you need to remember that a magician is not someone who deceives, but someone who keeps his promise. Which is to deceive. All right?” We can consider this Neil Bartlett’s warning, or promise, about his most recent novel, Disappearance Boy, which takes magic as its subject. This isn’t magic as in enchantment or magical realism. This is the arduous and precise mechanics of stage magic, the labor behind the illusion, the dynamics and the deceits among the people who create the illusion on stage. That Bartlett creates enchantment anyway is his own brand of magic.

After a startling prelude—a boy stands on railroad tracks, waiting for the approaching train to kill him—the novel takes place in the months leading up to Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on June 2, 1953. The plot concerns a magician, always referred to as Mr Brookes, who has a run-of-the-mill magic act.

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Michael Schwartz is an associate editor of this magazine.

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