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Book Review: The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliot

Will Elliot has rocked the literature market with his outrageously original debut novel, The Pilo Family Circus, about a circus between Brisbane and hell. At its heart, Jamie is dragged into this world and becomes one of the clowns – a bunch of twisted, exaggerating individuals. When Jamie puts on his face paint he becomes JJ, the sickest clown of the all. The face paint flips his personality upside down. This split personality is one of the highlights of the novel as JJ and Jamie struggle to maintain their edge over the other.

The world of the Pilo Family Circus is full of weird and wonderful characters. There are the acrobats, who in a divisive move by the Pilo brothers are scheduled to perform at the same time as the clowns. Far from making them try to out-perform each other, the two groups are locked in a game to take each other out. This came across as an allegory of capitalist competition, but maybe that's just me.

The feel of the book starts out with sick, slapstick violence that makes you laugh out loud; my fellow commuters must be convinced I am mad when they see me laugh when reading a book with an evil clown on its cover. But what begins as slapstick violence, quickly turns much darker. I read an article in The Sydney Morning Herald that part of this has to do with Elliot commenting on the changing nature of what the image of clowns represent. What once was an image of fun and laughter, is now an image of trickery and perverted evil.

Elliot also makes a point in the interview in The Herald that this book is not autobiographical in any way. Elliot, a sufferer of schizophrenia, wants to make this clear as many people have made the suggestion that the face paint and split personality of Jamie and JJ may be a metaphor for schizophrenia. Instead, he suggests that it's more of a metaphor for alcohol. For me, the most chilling part in the book is the epilogue where the whole absurd episode of the Pilo Family Circus is nothing but a lost memory and Jamie struggles to work out what violating experience took place in this vacuum-like gap in his memory.

As a whole, The Pilo Family Circus is an original and powerful tale and I think I'll have to read it a few times more to fully understand the greater meaning of the story. I feel there is one, but just haven't worked it out yet.

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