“LA, 1981. Buckley College in heat. 17-year-old Bret is a senior at the exclusive Buckley prep school when a new student arrives with a mysterious past. Robert Mallory is bright, handsome, charismatic, and shielding a secret from Bret and his friends, even as he becomes a part of their tightly knit circle. Bret’s obsession with Mallory is equalled only by his increasingly unsettling preoccupation with The Trawler, a serial killer on the loose who seems to be drawing ever closer to Bret and his friends, taunting them with grotesque threats and horrific, sharply local acts of violence.
Can he trust his friends – or his own mind – to make sense of the danger they appear to be in? Thwarted by the world and by his own innate desires, buffeted by unhealthy fixations, Bret spirals into paranoia and isolation as the relationship between The Trawler and Robert Mallory hurtles inexorably toward a collision.
Gripping, sly, suspenseful, deeply haunting and often darkly funny, The Shards is a mesmerizing fusing of fact and fiction that brilliantly explores the emotional fabric of Bret’s life at 17 – sex and jealousy, obsession and murderous rage.”
Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis. The Shards is published by Swift Press tomorrow (that’s Tuesday 17th January 2023) and will be available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow. I chose to read a free ARC of The Shards but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Rachel at Swift Press for sending me a proof copy.
The Shards is Bret Easton Ellis’s first book in thirteen years, which is something I personally find quite exciting. I must admit that I have read only one of his previous books and that’s the highly controversial American Psycho. Have you read it? What did you think? As a reader of dark fiction and someone who’s read some REALLY unsettling works, American Psycho left me feeling uncomfortable. But isn’t that one of the main points of literature? To make the reader feel something? Following my experience with American Psycho I felt my time with this author wasn’t done. I wanted to read more. Which is why when offered a review copy, I bit the publisher’s hand off.
It’s 1981 and Bret is starting his senior year at exclusive Buckley College, a private school for the children of LA’s elite. Bret knows what he’s going to do with his life when he graduates and that’s become a writer. But until then, he and his friends are going to make the best of their last year under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and quaaludes. When a new kid joins their senior class, he’s welcomed into Bret’s friendship group. But Bret is suspicious. Why would anyone transfer to a different school for their senior year? What is Robert Mallory hiding? As Robert ingratiates himself into the group Bret struggles to convince his friends that they need to be wary of him. Elsewhere in LA a serial killer is at large. Dubbed The Trawler, the killer is targeting young women. But Bret is the only person aware of the horror happening on their doorstep. No one else in his senior class seems to care or even be aware of the danger. As Bret begins to piece together a timeline, a startling coincidence becomes clear. Could Robert Mallory and The Trawler be connected…?
The Shards is an unsettling piece of metafiction presenting itself as a semi-autobiographical novel and it works very well. Throughout the entire book I questioned exactly how much was true and how much was fiction. I even ended up Googling a couple of names because my curiosity became too much to bear! The characters are interesting. Particularly Bret who throughout the book tries to hide his sexuality from his friends whilst having numerous very explicit, secret encounters with a number of men. All while trying to deter his overly needy girlfriend, Debbie, who won’t leave him alone for more than a few hours. The tension between Bret and Robert Mallory builds beautifully over the course of the book to an explosive, unforgettable ending which I loved every moment of. It just takes the reader a long time to get there so this is very much a novel you need to invest in.
Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. But please be aware that this book is not for the faint hearted. It’s explicit in both violence and sexual content (along with drug and alcohol use) and won’t be for everyone. I really enjoyed the mystery aspect of the novel. Is Robert Mallory The Trawler? Or has Bret’s over-active writer’s imagination connected dots that aren’t actually there. The ending of the book was sublime. Vivid, expertly written tension that claws you in and refuses to let go. But at over 600 pages I do feel the book was too long and often repetitive. I have since discovered that The Shards was initially released as a podcast which now makes some of the repetitive sections make more sense. One other tiny bugbear I had with the book were the driving scenes. Bret likes to drive a lot and every road he happens down is mentioned. I’m a Brit with no knowledge or emotional connection to LA so these scenes got a little old fairly quickly for me. However, I loved the overall 80s nostalgia along with the references to music and movies of the time. I felt they really rooted the story in it’s historical setting. The mystery was intriguing and kept me turning the pages (all 608 of them to be precise!) and I will definitely be reading more by this author in the future. Recommended.
I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Shards. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.
The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis was published in the UK by Swift Press on 17th January 2023 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop | damppebbles amazon.co.uk shop | damppebbles amazon.com shop |
Bret Easton Ellis is an American author. He is considered to be one of the major Generation X authors and was regarded as one of the so-called literary Brat Pack, which also included Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney. He has called himself a moralist, although he has often been pegged as a nihilist. His characters are generally young vacuous people, who are aware of their depravity but choose to enjoy it. The novels are also linked by common, recurring characters, and dystopic locales (such as Los Angeles and New York).