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The Reactor

Nick Blackburn

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

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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.

The Reactor is a memoir about absence, loss and regeneration, written like the pieces of a puzzle. After the sudden death of Nick Blackburn’s father, who suffered from manic depression, he embarks on a labyrinthine journey to excavate his grief. Without memories of a father–son relationship that held formative meaning, it is at times a desperately lonely mission. The only photograph that he possesses of him and his father is when they are both in McDonald’s holding strawberry milkshakes. How do you create an existence when all you have to work with is a void?

Blackburn turns, instead, to the quixotic nature of destruction – both natural and human-made – and repair. He uses a repertoire of film, music and pop culture to locate, identify and accept emotional instability. The result is a shining, meditative and spirited account of the transformative qualities of grief. The Reactor represents a thrilling turn for narrative non-fiction – and is a work of lasting fragmentary beauty.


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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