“You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough.”
Oliver Marks has just been released from prison, and is finally ready to tell Detective Colborne what really happened when his classmate was killed ten years ago. As young actors at an elite conservatory, Oliver and his classmates played the same roles – villain, hero, temptress – over and over again, both off stage and onstage. But when the casting changes, good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into real life.
I had seen If We Were Villains around but I didn’t read it until my friend recommended and lent it to me. It’s not the type of book I read (anymore) and it was very stressful at times, but I was pulled in by the promise of Shakespearian theatre and very soon I was completely hooked.
What struck me most was the emotional complexity of these characters. Difficult backgrounds, trauma, insecurity and forced vulnerability, set in this tiny, isolated, cult-like academic world, then add the strong emotions of the Shakespearian stage and you have fireworks. The way tension builds and ebbs away (but never completely) only to return stronger is masterfully done.
I love how Shakespeare is interwoven in the story, more than just a few references, it’s the very fabric this world is built out of, and underscores some of the characters’ most pivotal moments. They really live Shakespeare. Someday I plan to reread this book again in conjunction with all those plays. Though you genuinely don’t need to to understand and enjoy the book, but it does give the story that much more depth.
A very well crafted book that you should definitely check out if you either like Shakespeare or murder mystery/thriller stories.
Content Warnings (CONTAINS SPOILERS): violence, abuse, blood, gore, death, suicide (off-page)