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Friday, February 27, 2009

“The Pilo Family Circus” by Will Elliott (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

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INTRODUCTION: I’m not really a fan of “pure” horror, but I was intrigued by the blurb to Will Elliott’sThe Pilo Family Circus” and decided to give it a try. From the book’s quite vivid first page, I was immediately hooked and knew that I had to read it. And indeed, “The Pilo Family Circus” turned out to be a wonderful novel, full of dark humor and grotesqueness. And while some horror elements are present in the novel, “The Pilo Family Circus” is really a mixture of genres and not that easy to categorize…

SETTING:The Pilo Family Circus” starts in Brisbane, Australia, but then moves into an imaginary space, somewhere outside of our reality, where the Circus of the title has its home and puts on shows to regular people called “tricks” who believe they are going to a regular circus performance. Once you are a member of the Circus, it’s for life, and since time inside the Circus grounds passes differently than on Earth, your life may be a really long one, if not a happy or enjoyable one.

The masters of the Circus are the diabolical and sadistic Kurt Pilo Jr., and his cowardly brother George who delights in mischief while trying to kill Kurt so he can lead the show himself. Always hovering in the background, the Pilo brothers possess the power to grant life, pain, death or passes to the “real world” over every one in the Circus.

In the Circus itself, there are bitter rivalries between various performers—most notably between the Acrobats and the Clowns, and the magician Mugambo and the seer Shalice—and the lengths to which one side or the other will go to score a point provides much of the novel’s black humor and tension.

Our main character in the book is Jamie, a young man working dead end jobs in Brisbane and living in a shared apartment with dubious friends, who gets recruited as the sixth clown JJ for the Pilo Circus. Of course, Jamie does not want this ‘honor’, but the leader of the clowns and his sidekicks (Gonko and the twins Doopy & Goshy) make Jamie an offer he literally cannot refuse after a thorough trashing of his apartment, almost blowing up his workplace, and other similar niceties.

FORMAT/INFO:The Pilo Family Circus” stands at 336 pages divided over four Parts and twenty-five titled chapters. Also includes an introduction by Katherine Dunn and an epilogue which hints at possible future books related to this one. The narration happens in the present-tense and is in the third-person via our main character Jamie/JJ, though other important characters have smaller POV parts.

Will Elliot's debut novel won the inaugural ABC Fiction Award and went on to be awarded two of Australia's most coveted genre accolades—the Ditmar and the Golden Aurealis. It was also short-listed for the 2007 International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel.

March 1, 2009 marks the North American Paperback publication of “The Pilo Family Circus” via new publisher,
Underland Press. The book was first published in Australia in 2006 (ABC Books) and published in limited edition (Hardcover + Slipcased Hardcover) by PS Publishing (See Inset) in August 2008.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: The novel starts with a literal bang when a strange clown suddenly materializes in front of Jamie's car on an otherwise normal night in Brisbane. After narrowly avoiding hitting the clown, Jamie dismisses the incident as a bizarre but otherwise unremarkable encounter. The next night though, the clowns show up again and shortly after, Jamie’s car mysteriously breaks down. Unfortunately, his troubles are just beginning.

From here, the pressure on Jamie slowly ratchets up and the novel’s tension increases with each incident generated by the seemingly supernatural powers of the clowns, as Jamie’s deadline to join the Circus draws closer.

Desperate and close to the edge, Jamie has no choice but to obey the clowns, and after making headlines in the newspapers and barely escaping arrest for his “performance”, the clowns declare themselves satisfied and Jamie becomes JJ, taking up his residence in the Pilo Circus clown tent.

Unwilling to give in and always looking for an out, Jamie discovers that the magic powder that is the performers’ wages gives them a lot of power, but at a price, and slowly the somewhat lost, naïve, and gentle Jamie is being replaced by the sadistic JJ—the way the true personalities of Gonko and the rest vanished years ago.

What will happen? Will Jamie escape or will JJ take over? That is one of the main questions of the novel, but there is also much more including the conflicts alluded above, the true nature of the Circus and the ‘big picture’ which is truly big.

A superb novel, Will Elliott’sThe Pilo Family Circus” is a page-turner that is impossible to put down and will at once horrify, entrance and amuse the reader. Highly recommended…


Mishel (P.S. I Love Books) said...

Excellent review. Horror isn't really my genre but you've made me extremely curious. I'd definitely like to give this one a try. Thank you (=

Liviu said...

You are welcome :)

Since reading the novel last fall, when I see clowns, I think only of the nasty pranks of Gonko, Doopy and Goshy :)

The imagery of the book will stay with you for a while and while overall it's darkly funny to darkly nasty, it's not a "horror" novel in the sense of chills, depression, blackness, flames of Hell which I tend to associate with the horror genre...

Dylan said...

Is the the book bad?
im 14 and interested in reading it.

Dylan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

WANT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Morgan Cinder said...

I really liked the book, and I still have it. Reading your review of the book has made me want to read it again. It was a good book, it does have a lot of swearing and a lot of vile, vivid images, but overall it's got a great aspect of horror, especially with Kurt, and the unknown person/thing that lives in the horror house. But overall, it's a very weird, very good book. If there is a sequel though, where would I be able to find it?

jennikifm said...

Sequel is on Amazon.


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