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If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

If We Were Villains (2017)

by M.L. Rio

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1401185,666 (3.68)12
  1. 20
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt (RiversideReader)
    RiversideReader: both books about friends at college who get caught up in a group crime

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Think Mystic River with a Shakespearean literary twist, and that somewhat explains this book. Having said that, there are mamy differences to this book as well. The story is about seven friends in their final year of drama school at an elite artistic conservatory of learning. The book is set up like a play with five acts and many scenes in each act. The seven students are totally immersed in Shakespearean theatre, and not only do they act in Shakespeare's plays, but they live and breathe Shakespeare all day long. Like any other college, their social life includes a local pub, many parties and cast get togethers. And also like any other college, there are many different personalities, even within their closed group of seven. A violent accident happens after one of their cast parties, and it forever changes the group dynamics, and these men and women are never the same again. As I was reading, I felt that i was a part of their closed little community in the tower building. This is not your ordinary thriller, but it is a thriller that is unique and spellbinding. And the ending will shock you to the core. Recommended. ( )
  Romonko | Jan 16, 2018 |
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a 2017 Flatiron Books publication.

This is a psychological thriller for deep thinkers. There is crime and there is punishment. There is mystery, suspense. There are intense characters, shallow ones too, those who are fatalistic and those who are tragic… just like a Shakespearean play.

Ten years ago, Oliver Marks was one of seven Shakespearean actors at the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Today he is about to walk out of a prison cell for the first time in a decade. How did he end up behind bars?

That’s something Detective Colbourne would also like to know. He may have put Oliver in prison, but he knows there is more to the story than he's been told.

He can’t rest until he coaxes the entire story out of Oliver once and for all. With Colbourne retired, and with nothing else to lose, Oliver grants Colbourne his wish.

‘But that I am forbid/ To tell the secrets of my prison -house,/ I could a tale unfold whose lightest word/ Would horrow up thy soul.’

The story then flashes back ten years as Oliver walks us through the events that left him holding the bag for crimes he may or may not have been solely responsible for.

When one of the seven elite actors’ dies, the remaining six thespians are the very picture of innocence. It was an accident after all… wasn’t it? But, Detective Colbourne’s senses they know more than they are telling. Are they as innocent as they appear or are they harboring a dark secret- one that is eating away at them more and more with each passing day?

I tend to gravitate towards these types of stories, which are too few and far between, but I suppose that only makes me appreciate them even more when I stumble across one.

The Shakespearean allegory is well done, as the stage is set for the ultimate tragedy. Our little acting coalition is as thick as thieves, too close, too driven, too immersed within their own little thespian world to cope with reality as most of us know it, which leads to grave consequences, when they begin to become the roles they often play on stage. Jealousy, competition, unrequited love, anger and resentment stir the bubbling pot until ‘exuent omnes’.

I was so engrossed in Oliver’s tale, so mortified, so mesmerized and tantalized, and despite knowing most of the details of the crime in question, and that Oliver has obviously paid his debt, the suspense is still nearly unbearable, because I still didn't know WHY- or HOW things turned out this way. I was filled with such dread, I almost felt like I was back in Vermont at Hamden College listening to Richard Papen unfold a similarly horrifying tale of obsession.

But, as morally questionable as those standing center stage may be, as superficial and self-absorbed, or in some cases, as honorable, or heroic- the classic “Villains VS Heroes”, if you will, the story is haunting and left a painful ache in my heart.

“But that is how a tragedy like ours or King Lear breaks your heart- by making you believe that the ending might still be happy, until the very last minute.”

The author did an amazing job with presentation and ‘staging’, as such, and created a vivid atmosphere, perfect for settling in for a modern Shakespearean tragedy. If you are a fan of the Bard, you will really appreciate the way the dialogue mirrors the events as they unfold and of course the bittersweet irony.

This is not just a psychological thriller, it’s a literary novel filled with obsessions and angst, with beauty and horror, and a near pitch perfect delivery!

This is a debut novel, incredibly, and I for one am pretty much blown away!

Pulling out all the stars for this one! ( )
  gpangel | Dec 17, 2017 |
Alexander, Filippa, James, Meredith, Oliver, Richard, and Wren are fourth-year theater students at a prestigious arts conservatory. Here, they breathe, eat, drink, live, and die Shakespeare, non-stop. Living together and acting against each other for so long, they know every inch of each other's soul. But they're also professional liars, so when Richard, the boisterous, violent, bully of the group, is found dead in the lake, they know not whodunit.

This utterly devastating novel is an amalgamation of pretty much every bit of Shakespeare's tragedies. It's filled with love and betrayal and madness and murder and guilt and ghosts and spots that won't come out. The several plays that the students put on throughout the year merge with reality so you sometimes can't tell what's real and what's not.... and neither can the characters. If you love Shakespeare this is really and truly perfect. ( )
  norabelle414 | Oct 6, 2017 |
I remember being stunned some twenty years ago by Donna Tartt’s startling debut novel The Secret History. It defied ready classification within existing genres, and launched a slew of imitators, though very few came close to matching it.

The publisher’s plaudits strewn over the cover of M L Rio’s debut, If We Were Villains, compare it to The Secret History, and for once the allusion is justified. The basic scenario is certainly very similar: a group of seven students at a private college in America become obsessed with their studies, and it all ends badly. Instead of the classics, however, the students in this book are all aspiring and highly talented actors and have survived through to the final year of an intensely competitive drama course that focuses exclusively on the works of Shakespeare.

Having been cast together in powerful plays over the last four years the group has become very close, and as with the protagonists in The Secret History, they have come to be viewed by other students as an exclusive and potentially sinister clique. Each semester there are a range of theatrical extravaganzas in which they all participate, which provoke short term rivalries both beyond and within the group. The dominant figure is Richard, a fine actor though hampered by a fragile personality that leaves him incapable of enduring criticism, or of being cast in anything but the leading role in any production. His beautiful girlfriend Meredith is equally accomplished, and while she does not display Richard’s egotistical traits, she does have her own demons to contend with. The rest of the group have their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, all perfectly plausible, and captured by M L Rio with great clarity.

The novel is narrated by Oliver, the youngest (and perhaps the most ‘normal’) member of the group, who is looking back at the events of the story from a remove of ten years, during which time he has been in prison. His recollections are detailed, and balanced, and it is easy to believe that he has been reliving these events over the years.

The prose is marvellous, scattered with quotations from Shakespeare’s works. This could easily fall flat, and come across simply as a means of showing how clever and well educated the writer is, but the author manages it marvellously. The quotations are always apposite, and serve to illuminate the characters’ prevailing neuroses.

The comparisons with The Secret History are deserved but should not obscure the fact that this is a compelling and thrilling novel in its own right. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Sep 23, 2017 |
This one reminded me very much (and in a good way) of Donna Tartt's The Secret History. I had a terrible time putting it down, and enjoyed it thoroughly, even if I did find most of the characters entirely unlikeable. A great read. ( )
  JBD1 | Jul 2, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
In this strong and assured first novel, 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.
added by ablachly | editLibrary Journal (Apr 17, 2017)
This novel about obsession at the conservatory will thoroughly obsess you.
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For the many weird and wonderful thespians whom I have had the good fortune to call my friends. (I promise this is not about you.)
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Book description
Enter the players.
There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us, though we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.

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.

Ten years 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, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students' world of make-believe. In the morning, fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, one another, and themselves that they are innocent.

Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 125009528X, Hardcover)

“Much like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, M. L. Rio’s sparkling debut is a richly layered story of love, friendship, and obsession...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

Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he's released, he's greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.

As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

Intelligent, thrilling, and richly detailed, If We Were Villains is a captivating story of the enduring power and passion of words.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 14 Jan 2017 03:09:59 -0500)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Entreated to tell his side of the story to a detective who put him in prison a decade earlier for a murder he may not have committed, Oliver Marks describes his past as a Shakespearean actor in college whose rivalry with a castmate escalated in dangerous ways.… (more)

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