Bret Easton Ellis is back after more than 12 years. And how: With the 736-page novel "The Shards" - German: "Scherben" - the author delivers a hedonistic, crazy, dark and tragically comic story that takes place in Los Angeles in the 1980s in an elite circle of several young people. Ellis last released Imperial Bedrooms in 2010.
The author, who had to take a lot of criticism for his work "American Psycho" in 1991, makes himself the narrator and the main character in the story - at least a part of himself. The closeness between the fictional character, the adolescent Bret, and the author is difficult to discern in autofiction. According to the 58-year-old writer, that's not so crucial: "You will never find the truth in something like a novel. It won't happen. The truth doesn't really interest me," said Ellis in an interview with "Zeit Online". .
Drugs play a big part
The main character and her friends from the Buckley elite school, almost all of them from a wealthy background, are drug savvy and never miss a chance to get high with cocaine and weed. Blondie, The Babies and Duran Duran blare from the loudspeakers.
Author Ellis is gay. Protagonist Bret is bisexual and he cheats on his girlfriend Debbie with men. In an interview, the writer reported on a girlfriend in his youth, whom he had for alibi reasons. In many passages he describes Bret's sexual desires and above all his joy in experimenting. In addition to Bret and Debbie, there is also the typical school couple - consisting of the popular quarterback Thom and the most beautiful girl in her class, Susan.
The ideal college world is cracking
The work initially reads lightheartedly - almost as "relaxed and light" as Bret describes the Californian summer. The last school year was supposed to be a dream - but things turned out differently. The ominous events take place in 1981 when the mysterious Robert Mallory joins the group. He's a heartthrob that raises questions just because he's going to high school his senior year. Bret thinks he's a liar since they first met him at school and tries to unravel the secret of his mysterious classmate.
But in contrast to the other typical college stories with semi-dramatic relationship disputes, Ellis weaves a dark and disturbing narrative into the otherwise ideal world of the elite students. You have to deal with the dazzling but at the same time somehow menacing Los Angeles with its vain characters, all of whom have their downsides. One of the youngsters' fathers is a well-connected and self-righteous Hollywood producer who secretly harbors sexual desires for students who are far too young. And then there is the "Trawler", a cruel serial killer who is up to mischief in the city.
Ellis is a gifted storyteller. He always cleverly places cliffhangers to keep the tension high. But it's also easy for him because the narrator is the older Bret, who, as an omniscient observer, knows the end of the story. Ellis also equips trivial situations with gripping dialogue and unexpected twists. The richness of detail in the work is enormous.
But this is where the weaknesses lie, because some statements are difficult to bear. Cruel descriptions of crime scenes, vulgar fantasies of the protagonist: the book is sometimes not for the faint-hearted reader. On the other hand, the author is not writing for a sensitive audience. Ellis was previously criticized for barbaric details in "American Psycho". "It may be that I disturb readers, but I don't do it on purpose," he said in an interview with the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". Reader reception doesn't seem to matter to Ellis. "I don't think about the reader at all," he said in an interview with "Zeit Online" and then added: "The reader has nothing to do with the creation of a book, sorry!"
Bret Easton Ellis, The Shards, Kiepenheuer