Literary Musings: If We Were Villains
My time on the internet has brought me lots of different friends over the years who specialize in a great variety of fields. It's allowed me to follow different budding careers and academic paths, and this year, it's allowed me to learn about the publishing process as one of these friends is having her debut novel, If We Were Villains, published later this year.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy over the past few days, and it was quite the experience. M. L. Rio has has a theatrical background –– both as an actor and Shakespeare scholar –– and this plays an important role in her novel. Following a group of seven theater students at an elite college, If We We Villains is a story of crime and obsession and Shakespeare. The novel begins with Oliver Marks, the novel's protagonist, finishing a ten year prison term "for a murder he may or may not have committed." The story quickly goes back ten years in time and turns to drama Oliver faces on and off stage with his friends and classmates.
If We Were Villains is a murder mystery at heart, but I'd say it's first and foremost a novel about the theater. Its plot revolves around the stage, but it also innovatively uses aspects of drama to form itself: without becoming a play in prose, it's shaped like a play and makes theatrical use of speech and action. It also works a /lot/ of Shakespeare into different quotations throughout the novel. No doubt this added layers of complexity to the story, but I'll admit that I'm impatient to get along with the action, and I was especially so in this case... so I may have skimmed a few quotations.
It should come as no surprise then that my favorite thing about If We Were Villains was the story. It had a lot in common with both Donna Tartt's The Secret History and John Knowles's Separate Peace in that it takes place at a prestigious but very small liberal arts school in a very small town and centers around a group of very tightly knit friends who study their craft –– and each other –– obsessively. It fits into a very specific type of campus novel, and for that I'm glad because I've always been at a loss as to what to recommend to people who love The Secret History other than A Separate Peace. Now we have a third novel in the mix! That though isn't to say that the novel is too like the other two. The settings and themes may be similar, but the action is all its own. If We Were Villains is a darkly enthralling read from the beginning. It sucks you in and makes you want to know what happens next –– or rather makes you want to know how things came to be. It's been a long time since I've stayed up reading because I couldn't put a book down, and IWWVdid just that to me last night.
Part campus novel, part literary thriller, If We Were Villains is a great read, and I look forward to seeing what M. L. Rio writes next!
You can pre-order If We Were Villains here and read the prologue here.