The Mask and the Face by Barbara Nadel

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A rash of crimes committed by men dressed as clowns has recently been reported from Mexico. Here in the UK we’ve had an epidemic of ‘clowns’ jumping out of bushes at people in the rural county of Norfolk. On the face of it, the notion of clowns committing crimes or doing weird stuff in bushes can be considered quite funny – by some. But then they are the weirdoes who don’t think that clowns are wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not like my best friend who once ran away from a circus performance because there were clowns. I was with her in the street one day, around Christmas about thirty years ago, when a gang of people dressed as clowns came towards us. I didn’t like it very much, but she screamed and ran into a shop where she hid in a corner. I, on the other hand, walked past the clowns with their cold, dead eyes and unknowable faces as quickly as I could.

Now you may ask, is it the hiding of the face that so terrifies my friend and turns me into a bit of a basket case? That doesn’t help but when you consider that neither of us finds covered Asian women frightening then it has to be something more than that. It’s not so much the covering of the face as the changing of the face that disturbs. It’s also the way in which it is changed.

I’m not exactly a conformist and my friend is one of the most unconventional people you could ever hope to meet. Back in the 1980s when everyone else was dressing in New Romantic frills and flounces we both went to a party stylishly got up as the late Alan Whicker. A clown would never do that. A clown has to be a certain way and that way is making you have ‘fun’ whether you like it or not. And then there’s the ‘sad’ thing they all have too. If you don’t laugh at them or if they ever talk to anybody they cry or tell a tale of woe about their past lost loves and pull your heartstrings so hard you run the risk of a cardiac arrest. Back in the 1970s there was a truly horrid picture lots of people had on their walls of a young white faced (and evil) clown, crying. It gave me nightmares.

The great Stephen King, one of my literary heroes had it right in his novel ‘It’. Pennywise the clown is one of the most potent horror inventions ever and I am honoured that Mr King clearly shares my antipathy.

Feeling as I do about clowns, it was only a question of time before I put something allied to their ghastliness into a book. This is the latest in my Cetin Ikmen Turkish series. It’s called ‘Body Count’ and will be published in the UK in January 2014. There are no actual clowns in this book (sorry clown fans, you oddities!) but there is a face that is not what it should be. It means something while portraying something else, which I actually found very frightening to write.

And there, I think, I have reached the crux of the matter. Clowns and others who change their faces to look like something they are not are threatening. Maybe that’s why I don’t like the idea of botox and find so many plastic surgery ‘victims’ so scary? You can’t tell me that Sylvester Stallone’s mother Jackie is happy with her misshapen face and lips like pillows. I know the poor woman is older than oak and her plastic surgery does represent a sort of never-give-in-spirit that I admire, but happy? Really? No I think that Jackie is telling us a little fib. Not as big as the great big lie the clowns are peddling but a fib nonetheless.

So next time you see some heavily made up Mr Jolly juggling balls and falling over in big trousers in the street, think about what I’ve said and keep your distance. That or go and buy a copy of ‘Body Count’ and really scare yourself shitless.

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