Published by Flatiron Books on April 11th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, 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, extra. 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, 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.
It’s been days and I’m still not over this book; I think everyone at work is sick of me recommending it, but it’s really good okay.
If We Were Villains switches between present time, where Oliver has finally been released from prison, and his past at Dellecher Classical Conservatory. The characters lives are entrenched in Shakespeare that sometimes, even for them, it’s hard to tell where one of them ends and the role begins. They swap lines like barbs, and the verbal sparring between them all is fantastic.
I’m not much of a Shakespeare person—the extent of my knowledge of lines in his plays is basically: “To quote Hamlet Act III Scene III Line 92, No.”—but the book had me so engrossed in the mix of characters and their roles, and their nearly (or sometimes) pretentious use of Shakespeare in their daily conversations. The book doesn’t leave you wondering what they’re talking about even without knowing much Shakespeare or not having that background in theatre, in fact it left me wanting to pick up more Shakespeare.
“A good Shakespearean actor—a good actor of any stripe, really—doesn’t just say words, he feels them. We felt all the passions of the characters we played as if they were our own. But a character’s emotions don’t cancel out the actor’s—instead you feel both at once. Imagine having all your own thoughts and feelings tangled up with all the thoughts and feelings of a whole other person. It can be hard, sometimes, to sort out which is which.”
It’s weird to say, because there’s usually at least one character I hate in novels, but I loved everyone in this book. They’re all flawed, snarky little jerks, and I love them. All of them could count as an outsider in some way shape or form, but since Oliver’s our narrator we see how much he cares about each of them and how much he feels he doesn’t fit in. The way his relationships with them change throughout the novel and how much they all try to keep things as they were as everything starts to fall apart around them is fantastic.
I do have some issues with some of the writing, but the majority of it was great. Each character had their own plots and issues that it didn’t feel like Oliver was the only character moving things forward or the only character with their own life. It meshed really well with the Shakespeare, though a lot of it was scenes from Shakespeare as well, and the hints and theories about who did what were great.
I was hooked nowhere near halfway in, and I could not put this down. I was told that the last paragraph made the entire book worth it, and while the last paragraph is a nice twist, I feel like the character dynamics and how they change and twist are the best parts personally. Hate them or love them, these characters are great and I loved seeing them change. I would have loved to read more, but I’m just going to have to read it again instead.
“Do you blame Shakespeare for any of it?”
The question is so unlikely, so nonsensical coming from such a sensible man, that I can’t suppress a smile. “I blame him for all of it,” I say.