November Book Club: If We Were Villains
Welcome to our November book club choice! One book that I repeatedly see being recommended on BookTok, and therefore piqued my interest, is M. L. Rio’s If Were Were Villains. Many people compare it to The Secret History (one of my all-time favourite novels), and it seemed to fit the dark academia aesthetic I always crave in the winter. Plus, a prestigious boarding school setting? I was definitely intrigued.
If We Were Villains is Rio’s debut, set at the fictional Dellecher academy, a prestigious arts school where students are mercilessly cut each year if they don’t meet exacting artistic standards. The story revolves around seven students who make it to their fourth year in theatre studies, each very different and performing contrasting roles, but somehow working as a family unit. The story is told from Oliver Mark’s point of view, an average, ‘nice’, middling student who feels like a background character both in the plays the group performs and in real life. That is, until real life begins to imitate the Shakespearean tragedies the students are performing, and he is thrust into the limelight both on stage and within the group.
“I seemed doomed to always play supporting roles in someone else’s story. Far too many times I had asked myself whether art was imitating life or if it was the other way around.”
Rio’s novel focuses around a murder mystery within the tight-knit friendship group, and the seismic impact from one dreadful night and one big mistake. The roles between the friends shift and change, we are forced to suspect one person and then another. Throughout the novel Rio details the intense Shakespearan performances Oliver and his friends perform to the school, continually drawing parallels between the raw, emotional world of Shakespeare and the hold it can have over our imagination.
The use of Shakespearean language is heavy throughout the novel, with the characters acknowledging their pretentious habit of continually quoting the Bard’s work to one another. For Shakespeare lovers though, it is a joy to see his language threaded through the story and foreshadowing at events to come. Just like Shakespeare’s plays, the novel does tend to veer into the melodramatic and isn’t entirely believable but that is part of its appeal. Emotions are all-consuming, friendships are life or death, and perusal of one’s artistic vision comes at the sacrifice of all else.
“We were always surrounded by books and words and poetry, all the fierce passions of the world bound in leather and vellum. (I blame this in part for what happened.)”
If you are looking for a novel that entertains and shocks in equal measures, and with a healthy dose of the best dark academia tropes, If We Were Villains definitely delivers. Please tell us what you thought of the book via social media or by commenting on this post!