The Reactor

Nick Blackburn

A crystalline, inventive account of loss from a thrilling young literary talent – and a journey through grief’s destructive and creative possibilities.

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Date Published
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‘One of the finest accounts of the mysterious workings of grief I have ever read.’ Helen Macdonald

I tore the arse of my pyjamas one morning, about a year before he died, and my father sewed it up perfect in a few minutes, just like that. I was looking at them this morning actually, his line of white stitches. It’s beautiful really. They’ve held.

‘Beautiful, strange and completely compelling.’ Olivia Laing
‘I read it with awe and sorrow.’ Fatima Bhutto

After the sudden death of his father, Nick Blackburn embarks on a singular, labyrinthine journey to understand his loss. How do you create an existence when all you can see is a void?

The Reactor is a memoir about absence and creative possibilities, assembled like the pieces of a puzzle. Through philosophy, music, fashion, psychology, art and film, Blackburn travels a vast panorama of ideas and characters to offer an entirely new exploration of grief. This is a book about looking for and finding chain reactions and human connection – a work of enduring fragmentary beauty.

Critic Reviews

Nick Blackburn’s The Reactor is devastatingly affecting. An episodic, elegiac bricolage of everyday life and longing, it’s fiercely brilliant, raw, and beautiful, and one of the finest accounts of the mysterious workings of grief I have ever read. It pulled my heart to absolute pieces and left me reeling with love.

Helen Macdonald
Critic Reviews

Beautiful, strange and completely compelling.

Olivia Laing
Critic Reviews

For all its purity, grief tangles itself in everything: in beauty, fear, joy and longing. The Reactor captures all of grief's messy tangles and lays them down before us. I read it with awe and sorrow.

Fatima Bhutto
Critic Reviews

Of all the memoirs about grief that I've read, this is one of the most arresting... Blackburn expresses his feelings of loss at the death of his father through a series of extraordinary short pieces which spool to convey the convoluted, conflicting, tormenting, sometimes downright crazy thoughts that characterise the mourning of someone you love.'

Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller
Critic Reviews

Throughout there are passages of great beauty and an engaging self-awareness . . . The Reactor possibly has more in common with Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This than a conventional memoir . . . Blackburn’s brave, remarkable book never offers trite grief-wisdom or neat resolutions, but intimates that regrowth might be possible: “radioactive atoms want to become stable again”.

James Cook, Times Literary Supplement
Critic Reviews

Flashes of writerly brilliance.


Nick Blackburn is a therapist who specialises in LGBTQ+ issues and completed a PhD in English Literature at Cambridge (on the use of quotation marks in Renaissance drama).

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