Book #52

The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott

"You have two days to pass your audition. You better pass it, feller. You’re joining the circus. Ain’t that the best news you ever got?"

Delivered by a trio of psychotic clowns, this ultimatum plunges Jamie into the horrific alternate universe that is the centuries-old Pilo Family Circus, a borderline world between Hell and Earth from which humankind’s greatest tragedies have been perpetrated. Yet in this place—peopled by the gruesome, grotesque, and monstrous—where violence and savagery are the norm, Jamie finds that his worst enemy is himself.

When he applies the white face paint, he is transformed into JJ, the most vicious clown of all. And JJ wants Jamie dead.

This is one of those books of mine which I don’t remember buying. It’s languished on my shelf for years, forgotten. How it ended up there is a mystery, the reason I decided to pick it up now after over ten years, an incomprehensible puzzle.

And I’m angry at myself for leaving it so long; The Pilo Family Circus is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Part horror, part mystery, part comedy, Elliott has done something truly unique, insane, and maddening.

The plot is fast as hell, rocky, violent, baffling. Jamie is living his generic life in Brisbane, when he comes across some weird clowns in the dead of night. Hiding, he sees them drop a velvet bag, and once they disappear he pockets the bag. Big mistake - huge mistake. They find him, and they return with him to the circus.

As Jamie comes to terms with his new home and career, it soon becomes clear all is not quite right in the circus; something supernatural, demonic even, is at play. There are rivalries which result in blood and death, humans having their matter reorganised before being assigned to the freak show, slow and silent workers harbouring grudges, and worst of all, the boss has a terrifying smile.

Jamie’s journey from insipid everyman to crazed violent clown is a guilty pleasure. His entrapment within the circus is both nightmarish and desirable; embodying your worst flaws and your darkest thoughts is something Elliott makes sure you shun and relish all at once. Seeing Jamie rampage on his path of chaos will abhor you, but come hell or high water,  you’ll want to see him keep going.

It’s almost impossible to review this novel well without chanting about certain plot points or clever turns in the road, and effectively ruining the whole ride. Elliott has created an utterly unique world of carnival - an already creepy place - and has made it all the more astounding, offensive and silencing.

Not for the coulrophobes.