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If We Were Villains: A Novel Paperback – April 17, 2018
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“Much like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, M. L. Rio’s sparkling debut is a richly layered story of love, friendship, and obsession...will keep you riveted through its final, electrifying moments.”
―Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, New York Times bestselling author of The Nest
"Nerdily (and winningly) in love with Shakespeare…Readable, smart.”
―New York Times Book Review
On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.
A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.
But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.
If We Were Villains was named one of Bustle's Best Thriller Novels of the Year, and Mystery Scene says, "A well-written and gripping ode to the stage...A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth."
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"Nerdily (and winningly) in love with Shakespeare...Readable, smart.”
―New York Times Book Review
"Pulls the reader in from the first page...A well-written and gripping ode to the stage...A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth, IF WE WERE VILLAINS will draw readers in and leave them pondering the weight of our biggest actions and their consequences."
"Echoing such college-set novels as Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and mixing in enough Shakespearean theater to qualify readers for the stage, Rio’s debut mystery is an engrossing ride…Rio crafts an intricate story about friendship, love, and betrayal. Recommended for readers who enjoy literary fiction by authors such as Tartt or Emily St. John Mandel.”
―Library Journal, starred review
“Bloody, melodramatic, suspenseful debut… This novel about obsession at the conservatory will thoroughly obsess you.”
―Kirkus, starred review
"This is a rare and extraordinary novel: a vivid rendering of the closed world of a conservatory education, a tender and harrowing exploration of friendship, and a genuinely breathtaking literary thriller. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, and can’t wait to read what M. L. Rio writes next."
―Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of Station Eleven
“Much like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, M. L. Rio’s sparkling debut is a richly layered story of love, friendship, and obsession. Both comic and tragic, this novel asks what people are willing to sacrifice in the name of ambition. Expertly plotted, beautifully written, If We Were Villains will keep you riveted through its final, electrifying moments.”
―Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, New York Times bestselling author of The Nest
“If We Were Villains is a whip-smart, chilling tale of a group of Shakespeare students who are, as the Bard put it, "a little more than kin, and less than kind" ― especially after one of their own meets a horrific fate. Full of friendship, betrayal, and passionate devotion, this is a page-turning literary thriller whose final, shocking twist you won't soon forget.”
―Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet and June
“A tale worthy of the Bard himself…ending in one final, astonishing twist. Recommended for readers with refined literary tastes, and those looking for ‘something like’ Donna Tartt.”
“Intriguing…a solid mystery that keeps the pages turning.”
About the Author
- Publisher : Flatiron Books; Reprint edition (April 17, 2018)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250095298
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250095299
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.4 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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By: M. L. Rio
Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
Length: 12 hrs and 50 mins
Release date: 04-11-17
PERICLES: Antioch, farewell! for wisdom sees those men Blush not in actions blacker than the night Will ’schew no course to keep them from the light. One sin, I know, another doth provoke; Murder’s as near to lust as flame to smoke.
(Taken from play: Pericles, Prince of Tyre)
"Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster." - Oliver
M. L. Rio holds a master's degree in Shakespeare Studies from King's College London and Shakespeare's Globe. It's no surprise then that the reader will find her first novel one of intellectual enjoyment.
The novel transitions between the day Oliver is released from jail and ten years previous, when he was a student at Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Oliver, along with six of his friends, were theater students studying Shakespeare. But the blurring of lines between actor and reality is the trigger by which their own Shakespeare-like tragedy unfolds and someone is murdered. Oliver is the main protagonist who unfolds the story to us as to what really happened on the night that one of his classmates was found dead. He was convicted but he didn't commit the crime.
I wasn’t expecting to get so invested in these characters and it was engrossing to read about how actors can lose themselves while trying to get into character. Rio knew just how to expose the darkness inside each of the protagonists, using jealousy and betrayal to build tangled plot-lines that's as old as Cain and Abel. As Shakespeare's play "Pericles" so well articulates: "One sin, I know, another doth provoke; Murder’s as near to lust as flame to smoke".
"If We Were Villains" has depth and intelligence, making the reader keep their eyes glued to the page to find out what happens in the final act.
"Ten years of trying to explain Dellecher, in all its misguided magnificence, to men in beige jumpsuits who never went to college or never even finished high school has made me realize what I as a student was willfully blind to: that Dellecher was less an academic institution than a cult. When we first walked through those doors, we did so without knowing that we were now part of some strange fanatic religion where anything could be excused so long as it was offered at the altar of the Muses. Ritual madness, ecstasy, human sacrifice. Were we bewitched? brainwashed? Perhaps." - Oliver
The novel is articulately engrossing, however, I gave this book four out of five stars because it fell apart at the end for me. I wished Rio would have researched the criminal justice system. Oliver couldn't have been convicted because his Miranda rights weren't read to him. As Oliver explains:
"I spent the next forty-eight hours in windowless interrogation rooms, fingering tiny cups of lukewarm water and answering questions from Colborne, Walton, and two other officers..."
"Following a map I had drawn on the back of Walton’s legal pad, Colborne led five cops with flashlights down into the undercroft, where they broke into my locker with a crowbar and bolt cutter. Damning evidence, covered in my fingerprints. “Now,” Colborne told me coldly, “might be the time to call your lawyer.”"
No, Colborne. You messed up and your suspect should walk! Police will try this; to do an interrogation without advising you of your rights, but eventually this would get them into trouble as they would have no case. Even a state appointed attorney would ask if your Maranda rights have been read to you.
Many people may not be aware of this fact, but after Miranda's case was overturned by the Supreme Court, prosecutors who won the original case decided to retry him on the rape and kidnapping without the original confession as evidence. At the new trial Miranda's common-law wife provided testimony that he confessed to her about the rape. Miranda was convicted again receiving the same sentence.
It was a streak of luck that Miranda was able to be retried and sentenced. If you notice, the persecution had to do it without the original confession. This is the whole gist of why your Miranda rights need to be read to you and what will happen if they are not.
Some suspects could still be convicted, but an appeal will let them off. So the way the storyline is written here isn't realistic.
Overall, this doesn't take away from the story as I still consider this novel one of my all-time favorite reads.
If We Were Villains is an intricately layered story that is as deep as you want or need it to be. It has layer upon layer upon layer and there is not a wasted word, not a wasted scene or moment or emotion. The skill the author must create such a well-constructed story is a rare occurrence in my reading world.
Like Shakespeare and his stories this one has it all: love, loss, betrayal, jealousy, trust, misguidance, violence, and more. You never quite know what story you are reading. Is this a historical story? A romance? A tragedy? Or something different, something more? Well, let me say you will not know until you turn that last page; and even then, it strongly depends on your own heart.
Brillant, heart-rending and beautiful all at the same time. This story is one for the ages and has become a classic all its own.
“Doubt thou the stars are fire; / Doubt that the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love.” William Shakespeare (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
*Quote in the headline of this review is by William Shakespeare from The Taming of the Shrew.
🤣🤣 in all seriousness I really enjoyed reading this book. It is dark it is mysterious it’s aloof and pretentious and there is something soft and sweet and endearing deep down in its bones. A dynamic cast of characters and their thrilling story. I don’t know much about Shakespeare but I felt like this book did it Justice and now I want to go watch Romeo and Juliet or something.
Can’t wait for my friends to read this one and share their thoughts with me, I’m looking at you seven ⭕️👀
I took a star off just because Oliver really made me want to shake him sometimes lol he sorta sucked but why did I still want to like him.
Book was shipped and delivered in great condition and came in a timely manner. No complaints from me in the shipment department.
Absolutely loved this book. I don’t think I can truly express how much I loved this book. The plot was great. I loved the Shakespeare vibe to this book and I wish there was a second book just so I could interact with these characters more. Definitely worth the read.
Top reviews from other countries
Oliver, the protagonist, begins the book being released from prison after serving a ten year sentence. He is met by Detective Colborne who put him behind bars and wants to know the truth about the events leading to his incarceration. Through flashbacks divided into Acts we learn about the group’s final year at Dellecher Classical Conservatory and the building claustrophobia that consumed them.
Oliver and his friends; Richard, Meredith, Filippa, Alexander, Wren and James are a tight knit group who live, study and act together. They live and breathe Shakespeare; they study him, they act in his plays and their speech is littered with his quotes. They have their own secret language which makes them impenetrable and almost cult like. They are in their final year and each has adopted a role both within their friendship group and on stage; the hero, the villain, the tyrant, the temptress, the ingénue and the extra. Tensions are ramped up when they are assigned roles in Julius Caeser and the pressures of the play spill over into their day-to-day lives dividing them and causing life-changing rifts. M.L. Rio ramps the tension up so well, we know something will happen but we don’t quite know what and there is an overarching sense of impending doom which oozes from the pages.
I thought the characters were wonderfully created, each had their own distinctive voice and I loved how their relationships with one another played out. Oliver’s friendship with James for instance was beautifully and subtly written and was one of my favourite parts of the novel. I also really liked that the book was divided into Acts as it helped to drive the action and was a lovely nod to the Shakespearean aspects of the novel.
I was astounded to discover that If We Were Villains was a debut book, it is so incredibly well written with beautiful and literary passages that I cannot stop thinking about. The Romeo and Juliet play for example was exquisite, moving and emotional and I was gripped. The use of the play’s words to communicate everything that cannot be said in real life was astounding and some of the passages were incredibly delicate, elegant and erotic.
I have to say that this book really appealed to my English Literature background and geeky Shakespeare love. I am by no means an expert at all, and whilst I think this book could be read and enjoyed knowing nothing of his plays, I think you’d get far more from it if you have at least some knowledge. If We Were Villains really isn’t pretentious or elitist, it is very much a coming of age novel with real depth and layers. Anybody who has been in a tight-knit friendship group or who has lived with a group of people can understand the feelings and emotions experienced by the main players of this novel.
This book is going on my Favourite Book list and I think I am going to give it a second read so I can absorb some more of the beautiful imagery and world that M.L. Rio has created in this extraordinary book.
The book is well written (if not to the standard of Tartt), but the characters felt somewhat flat- while a character doesn't need to be likable to be rounded, the cast here are neither, but do seem to change personality on a regular basis with prima donna mood shifts which go beyond even the drama students I know.
The author is obviously a Shakespeare expert- as can be seen in her writing, even if it wasn't clear from her bio, but the motif became a bit too intrusive for me: characters constantly answering each other with Shakespeare lines, and at times whole pages of quotations- I would estimate if you removed the extended passages made up of Shakespeare dialogue, you would reduce the book by 15%.
The framing device felt forced and unnatural as a means of telling the story, and the 'one final, astonishing twist' (Booklist) is anything but: it was clear where the novel was heading throughout.
It will be interesting to see what the author does as a follow up, and whether the endeavor will move away from such a Shakespearean focus
I found that even for me to be a little tiresome towards the end, and I personally worked out "who dunnit" quite early on in the book too, but that didn't take it away from me.
In 2007 Oliver (the narrator) has just emerged from a ten-year sentence in prison for a crime whose nature we will learn later in the book. Detective Joe Colborne knows for what crime he had been sentenced, but not why he would have committed it.
The enmities in Shakespeare’s plays are mirrored in those of the actors. One of the seven is Richard, who is prone to violent rages and assaults some other of the students; they are all afraid of him. In particular, he is violent towards his girlfriend, Meredith, who leaves him to have a sexual relationship, behind locked doors, with Oliver. The enraged and frustrated Richard rushes out into the neighbouring woods. Sometime later the other students find him in the lake, his head bloody, and still just alive. They decide to leave him there to die; and die he did. They were initially quite relieved, except for Wren, who was Richard’s cousin and had a tempered affection for him.
When they reported Richard’s death to the police, Colborne interrogated the six. Oliver was able to answer truthfully all his questions except the last: when asked whether Richard had behaved strangely in the last few weeks, he gave the answer that had been agreed by the six: no, everything had been fine. Colborne thought the students had lied to him, and was not satisfied that Richard’s death was an accident.
Nor was it. In due course Oliver will discover which of the six had near-killed Richard, and under what circumstances; and, at the end we learn how it came about that it was Oliver who had been charged with the crime.
So far, my review suggests that this is a fairly straightforward thriller; but in fact, it is not at all well told: Alexander, Fillipa and Wren never really came to life for me. More seriously, I often found long stretches of the narrative extremely confusing. This was such an irritant that it explains the low rating I have given the book.