Edited by: Tejaswini Vondivillu
It has been brought to my attention that a lot of people labour under the misconception that in order for a book to qualify as “Dark Academia themed” it has to be set in a scholarly establishment with pseudo intellectuals drudging around playing who-can-sound-most-pretentious-in-an-effort-to-conceal-inferority-complex (yes Bunny, I’m looking at you.) I mean, there’s only so many ways that trope can be spun before you end up with The Secret History fan fiction with slightly altered character names.
Here instead are a couple of books that check all the right boxes in capturing the essence of Dark Academia.
If you’re in the mood for a coming of age story that is deeply embroiled in Shakespeare and Black Swan-esque theatre kids: If We Were Villains by M.L.Rio
My biggest bone of contention with The Secret History was how shoddily the characters were done. All of them seemed like a vague archetype of a character that could’ve potentially done really well. With “If We Were Villains” we get distinctly built characters who are constantly walking the mutable line between “good” and “bad”.
The narrative interwoven with prose from Shakespeare gives you a front row view to the descent of the friendship between a bunch of thespians into debauchery and inevitably, murder. If you’re a Shakespeare aficionado (unfortunately I’m not cultured like that) the book almost reads like an ode to his works.
PSA: In the interest of self-preservation do not allow yourself to get too invested in the characters.
If you’re in the mood to relive (or vicariously experience) that one really fake friendship you had in high school but up the stakes and add light murder and ritualistic practices to the mix: Bunny by Mona Awad
The group calls themselves the “smut salon”. If that isn’t reason enough to read the book your standards need some serious re-evaluation. The shameful urge to make Mean Girl references is unshakable so I will get it out of the way; Bunny is what Mean Girls could’ve been had they put effort into dressing up for Halloween and reworked the plot to be a slasher-flick.
That being said, there is no summarising this book or providing a cute little excerpt to go on the back of the dust jacket. I have a vague, unplaceable headache just from trying to piece the chapters together.
If this was a Goodreads summary it would say something along the lines of:
Samantha joins posh school. Posh school has snooty, popular, rich girls. Said snooty, popular, rich girls decide Samantha is cool enough to hang out with them. Hanging out with snooty, popular, rich girls proves to be more than Samantha bargains for.
Clearly I haven’t done a great job of selling the book but if not for the plot, I’d definitely recommend it for its very Annie-Potts-snarky-toned commentary on posturing university students.
If you’re in the mood for some Y/N time which isn’t brought to you by a very poorly written wattpad fanfic or a tumblr blurb: If not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho translated by Anne Carson
“someone will remember us
even in another time”
Ah sweet, sweet Sappho. I was introduced to her early this year when I had to read Fragment 31 for one of my Literature classes. Not even my pain-in-the-hind-quarters runny nose, courtesy of terrible Delhi weather, deterred me from calling three different people and reading out parts of it to them.
Be prepared to be snowboarded with the redolent softness of loving someone from afar and of love being used as an infinite noun. Carson does a stunning job of stitching the surviving snippets of the poems together, often leaving gaps in the lines that admittedly are a bit frustrating, but in a sense add to the intensity of it.
If you’re in the mood for a good ol’ anachronistically narrated, gut-wrenching story of Indian families, societal structure, love and loss: The God of Small Things by Arundathi Roy
I would just like everyone to acknowledge that Ms. Roy is the OG manic pixie dream girl (minus the having zero original thoughts and no agency of her own). While I can’t attest to whether she’s prone to impromptu dancing in the rain, she has the dishevelled hair, boho chic down pat.
This novel like everything else she’s written is designed to shake loose the cemented bricks of tradition and culture. It chronicles the lives of 3 generations of a family living in 1969, Kerala. In masterfully navigating through time to show how “small” cruelties snowball over the generations into unerasable trauma, the story unravels the events leading to the ruin of this family.
The book brings with it an unshakable feeling of the familiar that will leave you languishing in melancholy once you finish it. The story is in every way a sensory overload and it’s hard not to read a little bit of yourself in the characters, the setting and their circumstances.
Disclaimer: if you prefer clear cut plot lines with visible character arcs this book probably isn’t for you.