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The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott

9/10 A fantastical world full of killer clowns, highly strung acrobats, and morbidly depressed people.

“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!

Nightfall was my first Will Elliott book, and one that left me profoundly changed. After finishing Nightfall I sought out Elliott's other works and I figured where better to start than the award winning The Pilo Family Circus? While this book didn't leave me profoundly changed, it was still an amazing piece of dark, funny, disturbing and violent writing, and it pretty much does all the things that horror should do in delivering a powerfully creepy story. Strange, bizarre, and not afraid to pull any punches, I can see why this book has been so highly decorated in Australia.

The Pilo Family Circus is an enigma, a circus living in a bubble on the edge of existence that is able to create gateways from the real world into its showground. The circus seems to survive by capturing the emotions of the people, or tricks, that come through the gates, and the different troupes are rewarded based on how well they perform. When head clown Gonko decides that the new apprentice isn't working out, he heads out into Brisbane to recruit a replacement, and fortunately (or unfortunately) for Jamie, he has been chosen to be the new apprentice.

Written in the mould of Jekyll and Hyde, except with clowns and face paint, The Pilo Family Circus tells the story of Jamie and his transition from loser with no hope to the murderous clown JJ. Elliott goes deep into all of his characters, especially Jamie and JJ, and brings some strange emotions bubbling to the surface. The only problem I had with the characters is that I found it hard to relate or empathise with any of them, but this is overshadowed by the strength of characterisation and the need to find out what happens next.

The Pilo Family Circus is a bizarre exploration of a fantastical world full of killer clowns, highly strung acrobats, and morbidly depressed people who have been sculpted into freaks. I highly recommend this to horror fans, but also to fantasy fans who are looking for something outside of the box.

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Our interview with Will Elliott

This week I interview Will Elliott, author of the highly acclaimed novel The Pilo Family Circus and the recently released Nightfall. We talk about his new book, what it's like having such a highly acclaimed debut novel, a [...]

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