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If We Were Villains: The Sensational TikTok Book Club pick: M.L. Rio

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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, ingenue, extra. 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. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio – eBook Details 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." 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. 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."

If We Were Villains: The sensational TikTok Book Club pick

At the same time, the seven main characters, including the one who dies, are joined together in complex relationships of friendship and love and part of the work of the novel is to explore the differences between these forms of affective connections. More important than fixed sexual preferences—at least one of the characters represents himself as being fluid in his desires—is the examination of how other feelings, including envy or hatred, might contribute to desire and its expression. Because many of the characters are alienated from their families, the bonds they have created during their time at Dellecher Classical Conservatory are a source of emotional comfort and strength. Yet, in trying to protect the sustaining connections they created, the group tragically embarks on a course that guarantees their collapse. At the end of the novel, Filippa tells Oliver they are no longer in touch. That he still sees the shade of Richard suggests this is not entirely true. Although there are seven main characters, they share their lives with an eighth person, William Shakespeare. As Oliver notes in Act 2, Scene 8, Shakespeare felt like their older and wiser friend, one they could not see but whose ideas were always in their heads. He cites a line from The Two Gentlemen of Verona, “Much is the force of heaven-bred poesy” (3.2), to punctuate the thought. They speak and think in the language of Shakespeare on stage, in their classes, and in their personal lives. It is not too much to say that they cede parts of their identities to the Bard, assuming that this is a fair and reasonable bargain to make with genius. Yet, as undeniably powerful as Shakespeare’s works are, the worlds he depicts are full of dark passions. To immerse oneself in his tragedies, as the group does for their final year, is to constantly confront the worst elements of the human psyche. As the novel makes clear, this can be dangerous, perhaps especially for people who have yet to reach full maturity. When Oliver sacrifices his future to rewrite the ending of a personal tragedy which he understands as Shakespearean, he exemplifies the ease with which a young and good person can be swayed to make questionable choices by imagined intimacy with genius. M.L. Rio was born in Miami, and has just competed her MA in Shakespeare Studies at King's College London. In 2016 she won a contest to stay in Hamlet's Castle at Elsinore for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, where she was the first person to sleep in the castle in over 100 years. If We Were Villains is her debut novel. As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else’s story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into life. Bloody, melodramatic, suspenseful debut... This novel about obsession at the conservatory will thoroughly obsess you."The title of M. L. Rio’s debut novel, If We Were Villains (2017), is borrowed from William Shakespeare’s King Lear, the final play the fourth-year acting students perform before Oliver Marks confesses to a crime he did not commit. In King Lear, the full line suggests that excess (“surfeits of our own behavior”) leads to disasters that people will try to blame on others. In Shakespeare, the Sun, Moon, and stars are “made guilty” as a result. The novel approaches the problem of excess and potential (‘if’) villainy differently, denying even the possibility of guilt. When the group agrees to not save their grievously injured classmate, they never ask whether this decision will make them guilty of murder, focusing instead on how it would benefit them if this abusive bully were not to be alive, and in the novel the attempt to escape responsibility wreaks havoc. Over the course of the novel’s five “acts,” the group will grapple with this conditional phrase, wondering what it means to understand themselves as villains in the drama they together enact. Cleverly written and beautifully plotted... anyone who likes Donna Tartt s books will love If We Were Villains too. Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends – a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago.

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