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Neil Bartlett talks us through the tunes in his novel


In his acclaimed fourth novel, Neil Bartlett once again performs his trademark trick of slipping into the hidden spaces of queer history and bringing them vividly to life. The Disappearance Boy is a story of a world mirrors and confinement, the illusion of power and how it cab be overcome. Here is a playlist of songs, put together by the author, which feature in his text and which beautifully evoke the spirit and atmosphere of the 1950s era in which it is set.

1. YOU’RE JUST IN LOVE (Irving Berlin)

This book is haunted by mothers, and by the magic of their love. So to start with, my own mother’s favourite musical comedy number sung by Ethel Merman and Donald O’Connor.


This is the tune that my magician Mr Brookes chooses to go with his illusion act—a gorgeously laid-back band with vocals in this recording by the impeccable yet deeply sexy Al Bowly.


Strange how potent cheap music can be, eh ? Another trashy little number from the repertoire of the band in the theatre where the novel is set—but just imagine slow-dancing to that with the beloved of your choice in some queer bar in the 1950s…


In my book, the young hero hears this melody from the opera Nabucco being played as accompaniment to the performance of two gorgeous Italian acrobats he’s perving over. It’s one of the great tunes, and one of the great songs of liberation.


The live BBC broadcast of ‘Zadok the Priest’ from the Coronation Service of 1953—a broadcast which provides the soundtrack to the climax of the book. I wanted my secret ceremonies of desire and freedom to be accompanied by the most glorious music ever. God Save The Queen!

6. J’ATTENDRAI (Rina Ketty)

This old song drifts across page 110 of the book. I’ve chosen a recording by Josephine Baker—because this was the recording that my partner James and I courted to – thirty-five years ago!

7. GOOD MORNING (Nachio Herb Brown)

Singing in the Rain came out in 1952—so no wonder that a year later two of my characters imagine themselves as Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, tap-dancing their way through a key moment in their love-lives. This number from the movie is pure clean-cut joy. Plus of course, it features Gene Kelly’s backside…

8. WEDDING MARCH (Mendelssohn)

The ultimate anthem of heteronormativity—and in the book I use it to underscore the moment when my queer hero and his showgirl bestie send the patriarchy up in a puff of smoke…

9. TO EACH HIS OWN (Ray Evans)

Another song from the last night of the novel—and because of its title, this is the one I want to send you away with. David-Lynch-Dreamland vocals by sweater-wearing 1950’s teen-dream Pat Boone. And check out the cover of the original album (Star Dust)—surely that pinkie ring is trying to tell us something?

Neil Bartlett lives in London with his partner James Gardiner. His first novel, the queer love story Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall, was written in a council flat on the Isle of Dogs, published in 1990, and translated into five European languages. His second, Mr. Clive and Mr. Page, was nominated for the Whitbread Prize in 1996; his third, Skin Lane, was shortlisted for the Costa Award in 2007; his fourth, The Disappearance Boy, earned him a nomination as Stonewall Author of the Year in 2014.

You can find out more about Neil and his work, and contact him, at

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