Thursday, 30 October 2008

‘The Pilo Family Circus’ – Will Elliott (Underland Press)


Stephen King’s ‘It’ is a book that could have been half the size and a film that was badly let down by a dodgy fake spider. What both formats have in common though is that Pennywise the Clown scared the crap out of me! Ever since then I’ve been more than a little wary of clowns, what’s really behind all that face paint and why do they seem to take such vicious glee in inflicting humiliation on each other?
There’s something about clowns that has struck a spark in my imagination, I don’t know quite what happened but when an advance copy of ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ came through the door, a while ago, I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I was getting my clown fix again. I read the book over a day of jumping from train to train on the underground (why is everything so busy at the moment?) and I’m pretty certain that I missed a couple of stops so I could finish it. ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ is that good…

“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?”

Not only is Jamie seeing clowns, where there shouldn’t be any, but these clowns have bundled him through an ‘audition’ and into the Pilo Family Circus; a world that straddles the border between Hell and Earth, a world which has spawned mankind’s greatest tragedies. Life in the Circus is brutal and can be very short depending on whom you cross but Jamie is about to find that his worst enemy there is himself. For when Jamie puts on the white face paint he becomes JJ, the most vicious clown of all, and there is nothing JJ would like better than to see Jamie dead…

Without going too much into what I do (you would probably end up turning the computer off, seriously) my job isn’t that exciting but today that wasn’t a problem. When I wasn’t working I was reading ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ and while I was working I was still in the book; breathing in the carnival air, minding my step around certain alleyways and wondering just what this cast of weird and wonderful characters would do next.

‘The Pilo Family Circus’ is an amazingly drawn world based on a concept that sounds intriguing although the way that it is outlined could perhaps have been a little more detailed. Hurried times call for hurried explanations but it seemed a little too hurried if you know what I mean... I was left wondering if perhaps the author needed to explain things at all. Sometimes it’s better to leave things unsaid and let the imagination work that little bit harder...

The ‘circus setting’ is gorgeous though, all the fun of the fair with a dark and vicious edge in the background. For every sight and marvel there are also dwarves who glare suspiciously from dark alleyways and a funhouse where the screams are certainly not those of delight...
This setting certainly captures the mood of the book (dark, very dark) and this is further enhanced by the characters that Elliott employs.

For a main character, Jamie is surprisingly one dimensional. The only thing that we really get to know about him is that he is scared and wants to get back to a normal life. This is ok though as ‘The Pilo Family Circus’ isn’t so much about Jamie as it about what he becomes and the people that he interacts with.
As Winston says, ‘the nicer the person, the nastier the clown.’ Jamie seems to have no negative features at all and this translates into JJ who is possibly the nastiest clown you will ever meet. The ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ scenario is played out at great length and it is interesting to see how Jamie takes on his murderous alter-ego.

I had great fun getting to know the other characters and watching them scheme and fight one another. The clowns hate the acrobats, the fortune teller hates the woodcutters and the regular carnival folk try and stay the hell out of the way! Getting as much ‘book time’ as they do the clowns swiftly became my favourites, even though they are as surly and mean a bunch as you are ever likely to meet. Gonko rules the roost with a rod of iron, and whatever weapons happen to appear in his trouser pockets, but it’s Goshy who appeals the most. Elliott’s masterstroke is not to explain Goshy’s behaviour at all and this enigmatic air of his had me hooked. It’s a shame that his marriage (to a pot plant) had to end the way it did though...

Events play out in the only way they possibly could in this twisted and vaguely dreamlike setting and it’s great watching events bounce off one another and lead up to the inevitable ending. Every action has a reaction and it’s refreshing to see it all happen in such a chaotic manner with no regard for order...

‘The Pilo Family Circus’ is a book that you should definitely pick up if you like your fiction deeply unsettling and hilarious all at the same time. Look out for this one, from Underland Press, in March next year...


Nine and a Half out of Ten

3 comments:

Pete said...

I loved this book when it first came out, and to think this is his first published novel. Maybe it's just me but clowns are extremely creepy, and this novel plays on that brilliantly. Though I thought it got a little weak near the end. I'm looking forward to whatever he writes next.

Darren Turpin said...

PS Publishing have produced a hardback edition that's already available...

Graeme Flory said...

When I read this I didn't realise that there where other editions available.... *red face*