Category Archives: Recommendations

‘If We Were Villains’ – M.L. Rio

London, June 2018


The one where Oliver Marks finishes a prison sentence for murder and is greeted by Detective Colborne, the officer who originally investigated the crime and who still wants to know what really happened that night.

Oliver takes Colborne through the events preceding the murder of a member of their Shakespeare heavy theatre group and the narrative ends with a twisty revelation.


Despite wanting to love this – wow, I hated it. The Shakespeare students were so in love with the Bard that instead of speaking like normal people, their exchanges were Shakespeare quotes. I thought when this was mentioned within the first few pages, that it would be used (sparingly!!!) and a way of cementing how ‘into’ Shakespeare those crazy kids were. Unfortunately, it was more of a caution of what was to come.

I did not love learning Shakespeare at school. I fundamentally disagree with learning via texts that require translation and my least favourite thing in the whole wide, GCSE English Literature world, was having a teacher tell us how funny a joke was in Shakespearian language and times, only for a few classmates to laugh as though they got it. Just. No.

So, on a personal note the dialogue of this novel was a distraction from the start. I trawled through it, though found the characters flat and fairly uninteresting. The unravelling of the incidents around the murder were fairly ridiculous.

Read this instead…

I went for this on the basis that it examined the historical acts of the characters while at university, and what happened back then, against who they are now. If you’re looking for something similar, these came to mind:

  • The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  • Engleby – Sebastian Faulks
  • The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

Top University Based Books

I dropped out of my first university and when I re-started elsewhere I made the economic decision to save money by staying at home and commuting to university. This coincided with a period of absorbing anti-socialness, as I decided to concentrate on studying at the expense of the student experience. This allowed me to grow out my eyebrows and if I ever needed to live a little vicariously, the following novels were pretty good vessels…

‘Penelope’ – Rebecca Harrington

One of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, Penelope follows the eponymous character as she battles to find her feet at Harvard. Harrington’s dry sense of humour zones in on universal ‘new-girl’ weak spots covering everything from dorm posters to casual sex. Awkward but incredibly identifiable.

‘The Secret History’ – Donna Tartt

Set in a New England college, the novel follows a group of Classics students who, under the liberal supervision of their professor, create a lifestyle that sets them apart from their mainstream contemporaries. It gets really fun when one of their group goes missing… A dark and decadent story and an absolute must-read.

‘Rules of Attraction’ – Bret Easton Ellis

A group of students in the 1980s as envisioned by Bret Easton Ellis. The novel is told via a mix of view points, one of those belonging to Sean Bateman (with his delightful brother Patrick making a surprise appearance at some point) and another in French. It starts with a mid-way sentence and ends the same way. A bootlick being run over like a steamroller, but in a good way.

Related To Be Read…

  • ‘On Beauty’ – Zadie Smith
  • ‘The Art of Fielding’ – Chad Harbach