The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis. Entitled. Psychotic. Disturbing. A lengthy novel without much of a story until the dramatic ending.
It is not straightforward to know what type of novel this is. Part auto-biographical. Part coming of age story. Partly – well it is not that clear what the story is about.
Two thirds of the way in to this novel nothing has really happened. Is that important? Not if it has something else to offer, yet there is nothing obvious. Bret Easton-Ellis writes about the awkwardness of a teenager hiding his homosexuality and that moment when strong friendships are to be enjoyed before university breaks them up.
The novel revolves around a small social circle of young college students in Los Angeles. These are hugely entitled, money no object, cars as good as their parents when they are not driving their parents’ cars, and a slightly hedonistic lifestyle involving free flowing drugs and alcohol. Bret, himself, is the narrator with a girlfriend he uses as a decoy from his private homosexual lifestyle.
Whilst they are not studying hard they are all destined for a university life – this aspect does not complicate the story. This is about personal teenage friendships – the teenage dialogue is predictably dull but Bret Easton-Ellis counters it with much soul searching
By half through the novel nothing much had happened outside of the sex and strains of relationships. In the hinterland there is a serial murderer at large – this is America after all – with a penchant for home invasions and pet killings, before the actual murder itself. The narrator is preoccupied with a new member of the social circle, Robert, who he ponders is the said serial murderer. Then one of the friends in the social circle goes missing and, for a moment, it appears we have a plot. But, oddly, it does not go anywhere.
The obsessing with the new member of the group does not in itself justify a plot. So what is the point of this novel? After a while the lack of meaning begins to grate.
And then, two thirds into the novel, it steps up a gear. Another murder occurs, he is harassed by someone outside his home, and he is stalked by a van, but I was still struggling to be engaged. The friends continue to occupy him with gossiping and betrayal.
Bret continued to be obsessed with proving that Robert is behind all the criminal activity including the killing of his pet and rearranging the clothes in his house. It is creepy stuff but the police are bizarrely rarely called in these instances.
And then the ending comes with a hefty climax and I have to admit I could not put the book down till the ending. An attack at the house with a couple from his social circle then sees Bret go over to Robert’s house to confront him about it. It is trademark Easton-Ellis messy, but also becomes warped with Bret’s own obssessiveness that crashes into psychotic. The twist is wrapped up in his own self-delusion and trickery. As the reader we are put right into the room –that sense of voyeurism. Disturbing in its lack of morals but captivating in its moment that we are swept away with.
The daily consumption of drugs to calm him down wore me down too. The detail – the clothing brand, the posh sports cars and the music may set the scene but they also express the entitled wealth that I found little sympathy with. Having to wait till the very end to engage with the story did not win me over.