If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
Published: June 13th 2017 by Titan
Genre: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Synopsis: Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day of his release, he is greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, and he wants to know what really happened a decade before.
As a young actor at an elite conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same characters onstage and off – villain, hero, temptress – though he was always a supporting role. But when the teachers change the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into real life.
When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless…
This book took me by surprise. I saw it at the library in a few weeks ago and decided to borrow it because a) the title just drew me in and b) the sides of the pages are black which makes it look incredibly cool. I didn’t really have any expectations, other than it being recommend for fans of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I can see why!
This is about a group of friends who study together at Dellecher College, an elite conservatory. They’re all fourth year acting students. What’s so special about Dellecher is that it focuses solely on Shakespeare (at least in the acting department) and that every year, they cut students from the program who are considered not talented enough. It’s a very elite and privileged setting, which is one thing you should keep in mind when starting this book.
When the story starts, Oliver is just getting out of prison after serving 10 years. He agrees to tell the story of his friends and what happened to them to Colborne, who used to be a detective. In fact, he was the detective who arrested Oliver.
So let’s talk about the what I liked first!
Like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, this book features a group of characters who are morally grey (at best). This group of friends (consisting of Richard, Alexander, James, Oliver, Wren, Meredith and Filippa) felt so real to me because they were incredibly flawed. They loved and supported each other. But they were also petty, jealous and filled with rage.
Yet I adored the friendship at the same time. They knew each other so well, were familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each person. They supported each other. I especially felt for Oliver, who seems like a good friend to be honest.
What intrigued me most about the flawed and morally grey characters is that it made me question my own decisions. If I were in a similar situation, would I make a different choice? At one point in high school, I was considering studying medicine. Then I thought, “If I had to operate on someone truly terrible like a serial killer or pedophile, would I? Would I save them? I wouldn’t want to, but I’d have to.” That’s similar to what happened here. I don’t know whether I would have made a different choice than these characters…
He was as much a bully in death as he was in life, a giant who left behind not an empty space so much as a black hole, a huge crushing void that swallowed up all of our comforts, sooner or later.
The second aspect I loved about this book is how it addresses stereotypes and typecasting in plays and movies! At first I was concerned because the author described the friends in a typical manner: Meredith as the sexy seductress, Wren as the frail girl, Richard as the booming and intimidating presence, etc. But actually, the author addresses how wrong this is multiple times and the characters themselves point it out several times. For example, there’s Filippa. She isn’t the frail, doll-like girl or the sexy seductress. And she often gets the leftover female roles or even male ones, because she’s kind of the ‘other’ of the group. But she’s so talented and smart! Honestly, I lived for Filippa. She’s my favorite.
He watches her leave, then asks, “How much does she know?” “She knows everything.” He frowns, eyes nearly disappearing beneath his thick brows. “People always forget about Filippa,” I add. “And later, they always wish they hadn’t.”
The last thing I’ll say is that the ending is both predictable and terribly surprising. I predicted part of what happened, but as for how Oliver ended up serving 10 years? Nope, didn’t see that coming.
“You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough.”
One more thing: WHAT IS WITH THAT LAST LINE?? IT BROKE ME.
Of course, there were some things I didn’t like too.
A large part of this novel is centered around Shakespeare. The characters often use lines from his works in dialogue, and are constantly practicing one of his plays. I know nothing about Shakespeare, and what I do know I don’t really love. So that part of the novel kind of went over my head? I’m guessing if you are a fan of Shakespeare, you’d be able to connect to this novel even more.
My last ‘issue’ with this book is that it’s centered around a very privileged group of friends. Once you accept that however, you’ll really love it!
Once again though: THAT LAST LINE??
This book pleasantly surprised me. At first I thought I’d give it 4 stars but it’s been over a day and I’m still constantly thinking about it. So I’m upping it to a 4.5 star rating. It was a really intriguing read.