Worth the wait. Hermetic, paranoid, sleek, dark — and with brief explosions of the sex and violence that have characterized Ellis' oeuvre — The Shards is a stark reminder that the American Psycho author is a genre unto himself ... About a lot of things. More than one narrative, Ellis weaves in and out of multiple stories ... Despite the multiplicity of intertwining narratives, Ellis masterfully keeps Bret at the center of everything and the narrator's voice, not to mention his growing paranoia, is more than enough to keep readers turning pages ... Parts of it reads like a crime novel and others like a very dark, sexualized, drug-infused coming-of-age story. But there is also a lot of humor, a deep, scathing look at privilege, and a very personal exploration of the things that haunt us, the way distrust affects us, and how sex, growing up, jealousy, fear, and obsession can shape the life of someone at the cusp of their teenage years. Similarly, the story delves deep into what Bret sees as the performance of everyday life ... The novel is also very aware of itself, and the writing shows that. Perhaps the only element that isn't constantly enjoyable here is the endless detail.
It is lurid, grisly, violent, sexy, explicit, ambiguous, chill, funny, sad, and creepy, and so perfectly Bret Easton Ellis-y that at times it flirts with self-parody — which, one suspects, is very much the idea. It’s hard to avoid the cliched poster-quote: if you like Bret Easton Ellis novels you’ll love this. If you hate Bret Easton Ellis novels this won’t persuade you otherwise. If you’ve never read a Bret Easton Ellis novel, starting here won’t hurt, but you might have even more fun if you first mainline the classics ... The Shards play[s] fast and loose with various degraded literary modes — metafiction, autofiction ... Inhaling these novels, Ellis’s readers became accustomed to the metronomic repetition of brand names, band names, street names, the names of minor characters, reeled off like shopping lists. Some find this stuff confounding, or boring, the rest of us lie back and surrender to the ride. To some extent, the trick with Ellis’s fiction is to let it wash over you. It’s a mood, a vibe ... Ellis’s preoccupation is with aesthetics. His writing is decorous, but he has no interest in decorum ... readers new to Ellis may find The Shards 'ick' or 'cringe' or even 'triggering'. (Novels are supposed to trigger something, aren’t they? But perhaps I’m missing the point.) Those who disapprove should reflect on the fact that for as long as he’s been writing Ellis has risked scorn and objection, from Left and Right both ... The Shards is queasily gripping, strikingly heartfelt, and a whole lot of fun. The novel does not deserve to be overlooked, though stranger things have happened.
...[an] ungainly, interesting Frankenstein’s monster of a novel, which grafts a typical-seeming autobiographical reconstruction onto a work of outrageous pulp horror ... It’s all very eerie, yet for readers who know this writer, it will also be comfortingly familiar ... The semi-ironic nostalgia of The Shards casts back less to the era itself than the era as Mr. Ellis sensationalized it for his novels. It must be said that this gives the book the unmistakable feel of fan fiction; if you aren’t well versed in Ellis-iana, it’s likely to leave you cold. If you are a fan, however, Mr. Ellis’s subversions of his life and writing will seem cleverly done ... as his story becomes increasingly crazed and unbelievable his guise of emotional candor transforms into yet another provocative act of subterfuge, in a career already famous for them.
Ellis is a true literary craftsman, and the novel’s imagery is lush and gorgeous. Fans of his earlier fiction...will enjoy many of his signature strokes: murder, music, cocaine, Valium, obscene wealth, an unraveling narrator, brand names, palm trees, blood, stalkers, dogs, cults, disaffected teenagers, negligent parents. But there is an exciting new vulnerability in Ellis’s latest book, inviting the reader more profoundly into the emotional realm of the protagonist than he has with his previous characters ... The Shards feels earnest, at least emotionally. This is also Ellis’s sexiest book, and one senses for the writer a new freedom in the dimensions of love, eros and sensitivity ... the length and repetitions can be so taxing that the reader wonders if the book could have been shorter and still achieved the same psychedelic, collage-like effect. For all the narrative investment it demands, the novel’s climax and denouement ultimately fall flat.
A genuine literary event ... Others before Ellis have attempted to retool the serial narrative for the internet age. Nothing has felt quite as thrilling as Ellis’s year-long, hour-by-hour performance of The Shards ... Any lingering uncertainty that its brilliance lay more in the recitation than the writing can be dispensed with. The Shards isn’t just Ellis’s strongest novel since the 90s, it’s a full-spectrum triumph, incorporating and subverting everything he’s done before and giving us, if we follow the book’s ingenious, gleefully self-aware conceit, nothing less than the Ellis origin story ... Superficially, The Shards cleaves to Ellis’s well-established aesthetic. The dialogue is deadpan, the atmosphere paranoid and tacitly hostile. Sex is graphic and anhedonic; violence is lurid and sexualised. But beneath the coldness and carnage, a new, gentler quality is detectable ... We realise the precision and subtlety of its metatextual structure. The concluding violence is both climax and origination.
I never thought I would write such a sentence but the infamous Bret Easton Ellis has accomplished something really rather singular. This is an even worse novel than Fifty Shades Of Grey. It is puerile, prurient and pretentious, and as for redeeming features, it has none ... I will give The Shards one accolade. If I ever do go to Los Angeles, which is staggeringly unlikely, I will not require a Baedeker, as Ellis is pernickety about traffic. At times, this novel reads like a rather pompous individual giving directions to a bemused foreign visitor ... Should you buy this book? No.
Ham-fisted foreshadowing is central to the Bret Ellis style; the horror in question is constantly being previewed and post-viewed through the novel’s nearly 600 pages ... Behind all the familiar sights is something Bret desperately wants the reader not to notice. The book builds toward a shattering secret that is not especially hard to see coming—the other characters keep more or less saying it, point-blank, and so do Bret’s choices of music and video entertainment—but the revelation just replaces one set of inconsistencies and improbabilities with another. The book ends up on the same question it begins with: Why is Bret telling us this? ... Bret Easton Ellis would rather lock his teenage alter ego inside a horror novel than let him face something that might resemble real life.
...though The Shards has a lurid denouement, not every mystery gets resolved. Still, the road is entertaining; any good West Coast teen drama, from The OC to Veronica Mars, has a kid-pursues-criminal arc, and Ellis, who has taken to screenplays in recent years, keeps the suspense at a rapid boil ... It’s too often said that Ellis’s books are 'affectless,' as if his aim were to conjure dispassion and his belief were that society is mired in it. On that, the Bret of The Shards would agree...Yet the music that haunts this novel shows how earnest dispassion can be, offering a strange and wonderful mangle of coldness and aching hearts ... The prose of The Shards is sharper than his writing has been for thirty years, only verging on prolix when explaining what it means ... Ellis’s prose, at its best, acts deceptively offhand. He paints scenery and atmospheres—Bret would describe them as 'vibes'—by making them seem like givens, the situation as it was lived.
Dark and disturbing ... The Shards is a compulsive exercise in escalating dread and paranoia broken by moments of shocking violence and explicit sex ... It is also very, very good ... The plot is filled with many twists, reversals, and surprising revelations, and I would be doing The Shards a disservice to reveal them here ... [The] flat, unaffected language, that numbness, becomes an incantation, a weirdly compelling mantra of Porsches and palm trees, cocaine and Coronas, lust and panic attacks. Ellis doesn’t get enough credit for his prose, but he is a great stylist whose sentences crackle with energy and off-kilter detail like those of Hemingway and Annie Ernaux ... The Shards is a fraught and emotional head trip of a book that will scare the shit out of you—but also a novel filled with loss and love and the wreckage caused by growing up too fast.
At 594 pages long, some bridging scenes could be culled for a tighter read, but The Shards is consistently engrossing. A return to form, the blend of confessional writing and horror-mystery makes for an addictively propulsive brew. Some may find one of the ending’s dangling possibilities a meta cop-out, not baked enough into what’s preceded. But Ellis has worked up so much goodwill, and the ending is sufficiently ambiguous, that this misstep is forgiven. For sheer enjoyment this ranks among Ellis’ very best ... What’s most endearing is Ellis’ vulnerability here ... Fascinating ... The Shards is the culmination of Ellis’ strengths. He has become a more integrated author: his signature provocations and meta elements have coalesced into a more humane package. The schlocky artifice is a smokescreen letting the more truthful, autobiographical currents come through.
He isn’t really a minimalist – witness the airport-thriller bulk of The Shards – and the angles in his work aren’t always very sharp. There’s a dazed and confused quality to his prose, a uniform blankness of tone and evenness of detail, such that a strange narcotic fug seems to hang over everything. The same calibre of attention is paid to Bret’s frequent masturbation sessions as to the central building blocks of the plot ... Ellis manages to keep us guessing right up to the lavishly bloody finale, treating us to a variety of cliffhangers and jump scares along the way. He also makes provocative connections between writers and serial killers ... Taken at face value, it’s a pretty daft idea – the two forms of vision assertion and hurt infliction aren’t exactly comparable – but as an exercise in button-pushing, it’s inspired.
...it all unravels like a kind of ultraviolent YA novel, Beverly Hills, 90210 meets Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Mercifully, Ellis’ writing elevates the material above his recent movie efforts ... This is actually kind of a problem for The Shards, Ellis’ longest novel. It’s one thing if characters are performatively vacant or vacuous — American Psycho and Glamorama are long too, but in those books it’s a joke that no one can keep the characters straight. Without the satirical flourishes, there’s often little to hold onto as the schooldays and coke parties and sex scenes drift by. Though the vibe is well sustained, it feels at times like a miniseries that should have been a movie ... Ellis is and has always been in the business of mood: literature as playlist, as locker-room fantasy, as script treatment. That can work well in 200-page zingers like Less Than Zero or Imperial Bedrooms. At 600-pages-plus, The Shards is a harder sell, however sun-drenched and blood-soaked it may be. If you’re interested in the semiotics of Ultravox or the quickest route to Malibu, you’re in for a great time. But The Shards lacks the delirious absurdism and the tight control of Ellis at his best. For all its porno doominess, it often elicits little more than a mild wow.
A pleasingly slippery, impish author, Ellis uses all the up-to-date autofictional techniques to far more exciting effect than, say, Ben Lerner’s superficially tasteful and objectionably dull novel The Topeka School ... The author gleefully details his elite teens’ rampant sex lives ... The novel is the imaginatively expressed biography of a style ... Initially a reminder of how exhilarating a stylist Ellis can be – lyrical and cool and compulsive...across 600 pages the prose becomes undifferentiated and humdrum. It’s a shame this needlessly baggy novel wasn’t pruned of bloat and workmanlike exposition. Insight is too much stacked in the former half, the latter gassy with melodramatic dialogues and fitfully thrilling set pieces as the plot’s outlandish artificialities work themselves out ... That’s not quite enough to spoil the surprise this novel delivers ... As vital as anything he's ever written.
The high school details may be factual, but the serial killer component, as investigations by early listeners to The Shards confirmed, is invented. The supposed affinity between a writer’s plotting and a killer’s schemes feels forced — excessively plotted, in fact. Much more persuasive is the way Ellis sees sex as the source of all despair in his life ... The timing of the book’s arrival means it is yet another of the deep dives into a personal past fostered by lockdowns. In some ways it’s Ellis’s definitive work: his own origin story. But it’s oddly uninvolving, utterly locked into narcissism, totally obsessed with the minutiae of his youth.
...propulsive and twisty ... Fans of Ellis will welcome a return to the growing metafictional 'Ellisverse.' Newcomers will either be drawn in or repelled by Ellis’ bleak mix of sex, violence and wealthy teenage disaffection.
The Shards is Ellis’s longest novel and takes some time to unspool its story, as we might expect of a book that started out being serialised fortnightly for a paying audience on Ellis’s podcast. That means there are many, many scenes of social whirl...and domestic blitz...which give way only intermittently to the serial killer drama that drives the plot, as Bret suspects a new college member, Robert Mallory, of being the Trawler. But then the plot is of limited relevance, though the book does eventually come to a grand and dramatic climax, complete with a well-signposted suggestion of what is really behind the serial killer scare ... More important than the story is the atmosphere, and this is where the book’s elephantine bulk becomes necessary. It is, frankly, sometimes boring, but this is in service to an obsessive dedication to immersing us fully in Bret’s world of pain and alienation ... By far Ellis’s saddest book ... It takes us back to our discovery of his daring world, a time that then seemed dangerous but now seems innocent. In this context, reading it is a strange, sobering and moving experience.
Bret Easton Ellis’s compulsion to revisit the milieu of his debut novel Less Than Zero...is increasingly puzzling ... One could argue that in Less Than Zero and American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis produced two of the most insightful works anyone has written about his generation – which is why I and so many other fans of the early Ellis had been hoping against the odds that this long, long-gestating new novel would be a return to the form that he has struggled to regain since he reached the grand old age of 26 ... It is a disappointment, therefore, that he has given us something so unrewardingly self-referential, which treads familiar ground with diminishing returns ... The book doesn't really work ... In the end, you come away with the sense of Ellis revisiting a central period in his personal mythology so viscerally that he has forgotten about the need to make the reader feel a comparable interest in it.
The Shards is a long novel, and Bret seems to chronicle every last one of his movements, thoughts, and conversations from those few months. A lot of this can get tiresome ... The Shards has a certain drive—it's not exactly gripping, but it's boring in a way that still leaves readers curious as to how things will be resolved; one might not rush through the pages—it's a stretch to call this a thriller—but one does keep turning them.
The Shards is his most expressive and personal work, easily as entertaining as his debut, Less Than Zero, or his notorious American Psycho, but wiser and more sensitive than either ... The Shards may be Ellis’ answer to that backlash. As Bret is judged harshly by his friends and community, we readers have to ask how much of it is deserved given that he (and, by extension, the author) is merely showing us what we need to see.
...a curious mix of high school coming-of-age drama, autofiction, thriller and horror story ... This small, gilded world is a cliché perhaps, but it is one Ellis largely invented in his better books, such as Less Than Zero and The Informers. In those novels, his style was pared-back, whereas in The Shards his prose is dense and overly detailed. The story moves slowly, building an atmosphere of dread, and Ellis packs the novel with too many period references to songs, fashion, cars ... There is a worthwhile 80s time capsule and coming-of-age tale buried in The Shards. At just under 600 pages, however, it is the over-long story of a confused teenager written by a middle-aged author who doesn’t appear to be entirely confident about what kind of novel he is writing.
The Shards...is a big old plot-and-feelings machine. It’s a page-turner — a thriller, no less, even a love story. It’s got characters. It’s got subplots. It’s got emotional depth. If you’ve read Less Than Zero and American Psycho and Glamorama and suspected that beneath the chilly surface of Ellis’s numbed-out prose lurked the hot heart of a sentimental moralist, then The Shards will prove you right ... Except that it won’t; not really. Like American Psycho, on which it constitutes a kind of gloss, The Shards is actually a trap. It invites you to read it naively; it wants you to read it cannily.
[A] compulsively readable novel informed by suspense that is, at times, breathtaking. The setting is beautifully realized not only by its evocation of place, but also by its myriad references to popular music of the day. Sometimes horrifying, sometimes nostalgic and even poignant, Ellis’ latest is an unqualified success.
The usual issues with Ellis apply to this bulky novel: The flatness of the characters, the gratuitousness of the violence, the Didion-esque cool that sometimes reads as Olympian smugness. But as the story proceeds, it also becomes easier to admire Ellis’ ability to sustain the mood...he does ably capture how Bret’s paranoia intensifies out of that emotional distance and how the urge for feeling and connection infects and warps his personality. Bret Ellis the character is trying to play it cool, but Bret Easton Ellis the author knows just how much he’s covering up ... A surprisingly seductive work of erotic horror.
Ponderous ... He often demonstrates his skill as a storyteller, but this book feels like two disparate novels—an overly detailed, fictionalized memoir and a high gothic serial killer thriller—that never come together meaningfully or believably. This is not the place to start for those new to Ellis, nor will genre fans find much to like.