“I need language to live, like food – lexemes and morphenes and morsels of meaning nourish me with the knowledge that yes, there is a word for this. Someone else has felt it before”.
“The thing about Shakespeare is, he’s so eloquent… He speaks the unspeakable. He turns grief and triumph and rapture and rage into words, into something we can understand. He renders the whole mystery of humanity comprehensible. <…> You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough”.
“There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us, though we saw no farther than the books in front of our faces. We were always surrounded by books and words and poetry, all the fierce passions of the world bound in leather and vellum”.
When I heard that a blogger whom I respected for a long time was writing a book, I immediately put it on my TBR. I knew that it was going to be amazing. I also suspected that it would feature Shakespeare, alcohol and alcohol-induced poetic tragedy a la “The Secret History”.
We have seven “bright young things” – three girls and four boys – who are seniors in a prestigious theater academy somewhere in New England. Our narrator is – you guessed it – unreliable, arguably the least talented of them all, and is going for a recap. Well, to be fair, he is no less talented than the rest of them. Oliver Marks spent ten years in jail. Because the seven became the six one Wicked Halloween night. Something wicked this way comes indeed.
The loss of their leader, their Caesar, shatters the group dynamic. Amidst the brewing love affairs, the stunning productions of Shakespeare’s tragedies and the declining mental health of the members, Oliver pines for his roommate who might be a murderer. Or are they all “villains” in a sense? How blurry can the line get between a classic tragedy and the reality?
Tis now dead midnight (not really), and it’s been several midnights since I’ve had such a book hangover. M.L. Rio’s way of putting things into words is something I could never achieve. Of course I’ve always known she was talented, which is why I’ve been eagerly waiting for “If We Were Villains”. Was it exactly what I expected? No. But few books are. “If We Were Villains” does have some swear words, and it is definitely not a young adult novel. It reads like a modern gothic murder mystery where actors don’t know if they’re playing a part or is what’s happening really happening. The part of the school where they hang out is called “The Castle” (of course), and there is sex, and drugs, and it’s the 90s. In other words, “The Secret History” fans would LOVE this.
Although the book has seven main characters, you can see their personalities really fleshed out. M.L. Rio shows a lot, and tells less, which is what a good author should do (in my opinion). They are somewhat archetypal, but that was intentional. This is heavily based on Shakespeare, after all, which has your villains, your heroes, your lovers and your jokers. I love Shakespeare, and I would say that you do need to have at least some idea what his works are all about. I know some better than others – for example, I know little about “King Lear”, but a lot more about “Macbeth” and “Hamlet”. I saw the latter on stage a couple of times – once with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart!
I did want to see James and Oliver act out Horatio and Hamlet…
Anyway. I definitely like the idea of seeing “Julius Caesar” as a presidential election.
“If We Were Villains” is definitely a book I’d read again, and I’m looking forward to reading more of the author’s writing. My rating is 8.5/10.
You might like “If We Were Villains” if you liked:
“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt;
“The Basic Eight” by Daniel Handler;
“How to Get Away with Murder”.
Have you read “If We Were Villains”? Do you have a favorite college ensemble mystery? Tell me in the comments and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!