The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis. What an amazing read!

The Shards Book Cover

The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis. What an amazing read!

The Shards Book CoverThe Shards by Bret Easton Ellis: A Haunting Auto-fictional Thriller

Introduction

Oh, how we’ve eagerly awaited this though I can’t believe it took me this long to read it.  My reading list is loooonggg!

In his first novel in 13 years, the ever-fascinating Bret Easton Ellis returns with The Shards, a haunting mix of memoir and fiction set in Los Angeles in 1981. Imagine being a teenager again, but this time in the intriguing, elite world of Buckley prep school. That’s where we find a young Bret, whose life of privilege is jolted by a mysterious new student and a chilling series of events. Ellis’s satirical voice, shocking twists, and the build-up of suspense? It’s all here, but there’s a touch of something more vulnerable and introspective too.

Critics have showered The Shards with praise, and I can see why. It’s a mesmerizing return to form for Ellis, solidifying his place as a unique and bold voice in literature. The novel quickly climbed to #2 on The New York Times Best Seller list and has been recognized as one of the Best Books of 2023 by several esteemed publications.

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Plot Summary

The Shards, narrated by 17-year-old Bret, takes us inside the lavish yet empty lives of a group of wealthy teenagers in California. Their days of skipping classes, substance abuse, and parties are disrupted by two startling occurrences: Robert Mallory’s enigmatic arrival at Buckley and a frightening serial killer known as “The Trawler”. Bret’s growing fascination and paranoia about Robert’s link to the killings is a journey that’s as compelling as it is unsettling.

The novel crescendos into a shocking and violent climax that irrevocably alters Bret’s innocence and his entire world. It’s a riveting tale, one that left me pondering long after I turned the last page.

Character Descriptions

The Shards brims with vividly drawn characters, each capturing the essence of teenage life in the early ’80s in LA. Bret, the protagonist and our guide, is a semi-autobiographical portrayal of Ellis—a young man caught between the shallow values of his surroundings and his deeper artistic inclinations. His voice, obsessive and increasingly unraveled, is what propels this enthralling narrative.

The Shards is populated by a vivid cast of characters, brought to life by Ellis’s keen eye for the details and absurdities of teenage life in early ’80s LA. The narrator and protagonist, Bret, is a thinly veiled version of Ellis himself – a precocious, anxious teenager torn between the superficial values of his milieu and a deeper artistic and moral sensibility. Bret’s obsessive, increasingly unhinged voice drives the narrative.

The other central character is Robert Mallory, the mysterious transfer student who becomes the object of Bret’s fixation. Seductive and inscrutable, Robert captivates Bret and the other Buckley students even as aspects of his story don’t quite add up. Is he a threat, a victim, a liar, or something else entirely? This enigmatic character keeps both Bret and the reader guessing.

Other memorable characters include Bret’s girlfriends Debbie Schaffer and Thora Kerwin; his best friend Thom Wright; Susan Reynolds, a fellow “Trawler” obsessive; and an assortment of burnouts, rich kids, and LA scenesters. Ellis vividly captures the teenage personalities and group dynamics.

Themes and Motifs

The novel weaves a rich tapestry of themes and motifs, including:

  • The loss of innocence – Bret’s journey is a poignant reflection on the abrupt end of youthful naiveté and the harsh truths that surface.
  • The masks we wear – Ellis cleverly explores the idea that everyone, including Bret, hides behind facades, prompting us to question our understanding of others and ourselves.
  • The unreliable narrator – Bret’s descent into paranoia and his blurred perception of reality make us question every twist and turn.
  • The dark side of privilege – The novel offers a biting critique of the hollow and destructive nature of privileged teenage life.
  • The power of fiction – Ellis delves into how the traumatic events of his youth shaped his literary voice, artfully playing with the line between fiction and autobiography.

Writing Style and Tone

Ellis’s distinctive style—richly descriptive, darkly humorous, yet emotionally charged—is on full display in The Shards. The vivid portrayal of the 1980s LA scene is absolutely engrossing. While the novel’s pace is deliberate, particularly in the first half, the tension gradually intensifies, rewarding readers with an increasingly gripping narrative.

Evaluation and Conclusion

The Shards is, without doubt, Ellis’s most ambitious and personal work to date. It’s a profound exploration of memory, guilt, and the indelible impact of trauma. While its length and pace might challenge some, and its more graphic and nihilistic elements might not be to everyone’s taste, it remains a deeply engaging and thought-provoking read.

Ellis’s ability to blend harsh realism with warmth and humanity marks this as an unforgettable addition to his oeuvre. It’s a raw, haunting portrait of an artist as a young man, equally gripping as a psychological thriller.

Favorite Quotes

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – Bret’s reflection on the lingering impact of his youth resonates deeply with me, and likely with many of you.

“Disappear here.” – A chilling motto that takes on a new, sinister meaning in the context of the Trawler’s victims.

“I was learning that the world was not what I thought it was, and never would be again.” – Bret’s realization about the loss of innocence is a sentiment that’s both universal and poignant.

“I was writing about the world of the Trawler that I was imagining, which was somehow becoming the world I was living in.” – The blurring of fiction and reality here is both fascinating and unsettling.

“That’s the thing about L.A.—you can hide in plain sight.” – Robert’s observation captures the essence of the novel’s theme about the facades people wear.

FAQ

  1. Is The Shards a sequel to Ellis’s 1985 debut novel Less Than Zero? While set in the same era and milieu as Less Than Zero and featuring a narrator named Bret, The Shards is a standalone novel, distinct in its narrative and themes.
  2. How much of the book is based on Ellis’s real life? The Shards is a captivating blend of autofiction, combining elements of Ellis’s real teenage years with fictional characters and events. The overarching narrative aligns with Ellis’s youth, but the plot details are products of his imagination.
  3. Is The Shards similar to Ellis’s other books? While retaining Ellis’s recurring themes and stylistic elements, The Shards presents a more earnest and vulnerable side of his writing, differing from the affectless nihilism of his earlier works.
  4. How graphic is the violence in the book? Consistent with Ellis’s reputation, The Shards includes scenes of intense and disturbing violence. It may not be as relentless as American Psycho, but it could still be challenging for some readers.

Spoilers/How Does It End

The Shards builds to a shattering, violent climax as Bret’s obsession with Robert Mallory and the Trawler killings reaches a fever pitch. In a harrowing final sequence, Bret confronts Robert at a nightclub, accusing him of being the killer. A scuffle ensues, and Bret blacks out. When he awakens, Robert has disappeared, the police are investigating a murder, and Bret’s own culpability is left ambiguous.

In the aftermath, a traumatized Bret is left to pick up the pieces, his innocence shattered and his world forever changed. The fate of Robert Mallory remains unresolved, a lingering question mark that will haunt Bret for the rest of his life. The Shards ends on a note of loss and uncertainty, with Bret alone and adrift, the events of his senior year an indelible scar.

By the end of the novel, Bret has shed his youthful naivete and faces an uncertain future, forever marked by the darkness he’s glimpsed. It’s a haunting coming-of-age that leaves both Bret and the reader unsettled and unsure, the mysteries of the past never fully resolved but exerting their power nonetheless.

About the Author

Bret Easton Ellis is a towering figure in American literature, known for his incisive critiques of contemporary culture and his controversial, thought-provoking narratives.

His notable works, from Less Than Zero to The Shards, reflect his evolution as a writer and his enduring impact on the literary world. Ellis’s exploration of dark themes, combined with a cool, detached writing style, continues to resonate and inspire.

Ellis published his first novel, Less Than Zero, at age 21 in 1985. He followed it with The Rules of Attraction (1987), American Psycho (1991), The Informers (1994), Glamorama (1998), Lunar Park (2005), and Imperial Bedrooms (2010). The Shards (2023) is his first novel in 13 years.

The Shards is in many ways a culmination of Ellis’s recurring themes and obsessions, revisiting the LA youth culture of Less Than Zero and Imperial Bedrooms with the violent nihilism and unreliable narration of American Psycho. At the same time, it represents a new vulnerability and earnestness in his work, grappling with autobiographical material more directly than ever before.

Ellis remains a divisive and controversial figure, but his influence on contemporary literature is undeniable. His cool, detached prose style and unflinching examination of the dark underbelly of American culture have inspired countless imitators and acolytes. With The Shards, Ellis cements his status as a transgressive icon and one of the defining literary voices of his generation.

Publication History and Reception

The Shards was published on January 17, 2023, by Knopf. It is Ellis’s first novel since Imperial Bedrooms in 2010. The book debuted at #2 on The New York Times Best Seller list and received positive reviews from critics, who praised it as a return to form for Ellis and his most ambitious and personal work yet.

Initial critical reception has been largely positive, with reviewers praising Ellis’s atmospheric prose, slow-burn suspense, and nuanced exploration of themes like memory, guilt, and the loss of innocence. Some critics have noted that the novel’s length and pacing may test some readers’ patience, and its graphic violence and nihilistic worldview will be off-putting to some. But overall, The Shards has been hailed as a major literary event and a worthy addition to Ellis’s controversial canon.

The Shards is soon to become an HBO series!

Bibliographic Information

  • Author: Bret Easton Ellis
  • Title: The Shards
  • Genres: Autofiction, Psychological thriller, Horror, Coming-of-age
  • BISAC Categories: Fiction / Literary, Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological, Fiction / Coming of Age
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Place of Publication: New York, USA
  • Publication Date: January 17, 2023
  • ISBN-10: 0593535294
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593535295
  • Page Count: 608 pages
  • Format: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
  • Language: English

Where to Buy The Shards

You can purchase The Shards from Bookshop.org and support independent bookstores. The novel is also available from major retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookstore.

Further Reading

If you think you might enjoy The Shards as much as I did, check out these reviews and articles for more insight and analysis:

Conclusion

The Shards is a haunting, ambitious novel that finds Bret Easton Ellis at his most introspective and vulnerable. By turns a nostalgic coming-of-age story, a psychological thriller, and a meta-commentary on the act of writing fiction, the novel showcases Ellis’s growth as a writer while still delivering his signature style and themes. For fans of Ellis’s work, it’s a must-read; for newcomers, it’s a challenging but rewarding introduction to one of contemporary literature’s most controversial voices. The Shards is a dark, mesmerizing portrait of the artist as a young man that will linger long after the final page.

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