The Pilo Family Circus

The Pilo Family Circus won the Aurealis Award for best horror novel in 2006.

Author Will Elliot taps into coulrophobia, which is the known fear of clowns, in his first novel, The Pilo Family Circus. The clowns in Elliot’s novel are twisted and so is the plot. The Pilo Family Circus hovers in a dark dimension, right next door to hell. From there, the clowns seduce brainwashed humans – before the circus steals their souls.

The story is written from the perspective of Jamie, a modern twenty-two year old man living in Brisbane, Australia. He is an arts graduate who works a minimum wage job and lives in a house with a playboy and a drug addict: a twisted fairy tale, as he lightly puts it. Driving home one night, Jamie is forced to slam on his brakes. Something is standing in the centre of the road. Looking straight ahead in a flowery shirt, striped pants, and big red shoes, the clown’s eyes glare out of a white-painted face. Then he simply walks off the road, into the distance.

The next day it happens again, except there are now three clowns: one the size of an egg, one who limps with legs as skinny as straws, and one whose snarl could stop traffic, despite the cute animals printed on his shirt. Jamie’s first mistake is stopping his vehicle, because now the clowns now know who he is. After being tormented daily for the next few days, amid the wreckage in his trashed home, Jamie finds a card addressed “For a Special Guy”. Scribbled handwriting laces the inside of the letter: “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?” It’s signed Gonko, Doopy and Goshy, on behalf of the Pilo Family Circus.

The one in charge of the circus is a man named Kurt Pilo- a seven-foot giant with talons for nails and fangs for teeth. As the days drag on in the underworld, Jamie is shown what he would have become in reality: an alcoholic living most of his days in a cubicle, with a disabled son whose mother pesters for more child support. The only thing saving Jamie from this life is smearing on some white face paint and sticking on a big red nose. However, the more Jamie changes, the more he begins to lose himself to JJ, the sadistic clown inside. Can Jamie kill off JJ without destroying himself?

The novel allows those who indulge in dark fantasy to be absorbed by the horrifying tales of the circus. Elliott’s written imagery is stronger than his characterization. It’s the descriptive writing that sets the atmosphere for the reader. Though the plot can become dull due to the lack of character growth, the settings make up for these weaknesses.

The Pilo Family Circus won the Aurealis Award for best horror novel in 2006 but it might have made a better horror movie or violent computer game. Nonetheless it is worth a read for any horror-loving fanatic.