My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan Review

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan book review
My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan, ISBN 97800062740649, 323pp

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan tells the story of American Ella Durran who goes to Oxford to study on a Rhodes scholarship. It’s meant to be a short academic year stay to make her resume look great and to fulfill a childhood dream to study at Oxford. Even though she’s only twenty-four she is asked to help out on a political campaign back home in America where there’s a high chance the candidate could become the next president. So she’s studying at Oxford, helping in a political campaign and a bright future is mapped out for her when she gets back home.

While at Oxford, Ella decides to study English literature 1830 to 1914 and this is reflected in the novel by chapter heading quotes by poets and authors like Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte etc. On her first day in Oxford, Ella has an encounter with a rude British guy, only to find out later that he is teaching her course. Jamie Davenport is a rich player with a love of the English language and Ella can’t deny that there is a spark between them both. But it turns out Jamie has a life changing secret that could upend all Ella’s plans.

I have mixed feelings about My Oxford Year. There were parts of this books that I loved and then bits that fell flat for me. I enjoyed all the descriptions of  buildings and places around Oxford as it brought back my own memories of living and working in Oxford for a year. It’s such a pretty, historic town with a fantastic academic and literary history. So it was great to read a novel set in a place I love.

****Spoilers ahead****

But it was a very touristy look at Oxford. Characters visited lots of the iconic sites such as The Eagle and Child pub, The Turf Tavern, Blenheim Palace, they went punting along the river and visited museums etc which makes sense since this is a book about Oxford. It’s just not the whole story of Oxford. The main character lives at Magdalen College but doesn’t visit Cowley Road to eat out or go to the supermarket? It’s right next to where she lives. But I guess that wouldn’t make an interesting story!

Also there was the problem of the character Ella. I really didn’t like her. She came across very self-centered and arrogant. Her reaction to Jamie’s life-changing news was childish and selfish. As a reader you are meant to believe that Ella and Jamie have such a great love story but I really didn’t feel they loved each other, or even liked each other. The moment when they ‘get together’ is not even depicted in the book. They just wake up next to each other the next morning. It’s the literary equivalent of when a love scene in a film fades to black or cuts away from a kiss to them waking up the next day. It was just a bit strange because it was a vital moment that really needed to be in the book and then it made me not really believe they had this amazing love story. It was trying to be like Me Before You but just didn’t hit the mark.

Ella is only twenty-four and is being personally called up for advice by someone who might be the next president. How did she get so much experience when she’s so young? It just doesn’t ring true. Also the English characters spoke strangely – in a way that someone might imagine British people speak but it came across clunky.

The ending is also a non-ending and didn’t really conclude anything. After getting to the end there was a bit written by the author Julia Whelan. Basically this book is based on someone else’s screenplay. Julia was hired to rewrite bits of someone’s script because she had once lived in Oxford as a student. She then decided to write a novel so she could write more detail. I think that’s why sometimes this book comes across as a screenplay and there seems to be gaps in the story.

It sounds like I didn’t like this book. I did like it but for the reasons above it just didn’t gel for me.  I wasn’t invested in this book’s romantic plot.

Verdict: Worth picking up if you want to read a book set in Oxford

3 thoughts on “My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan Review

  1. theorangutanlibrarian October 24, 2018 / 8:51 am

    Pity some parts fell flat for you, but it’s cool it brought back good memories for you 🙂 Ah I do hear you about it feeling touristy- I read a book recently set where I used to live and found it like that. Shame the ending was such a non-ending as well. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins October 31, 2018 / 2:02 pm

    I can’t help but think in cases like this, where a famous city is depicted in the most tourist-y possible way, there’s an editor sitting there going “nope, cut this bit where she goes to the hole-in-the-wall bar, no reader will know where that is”. Which is a real shame, because it immediately ruins the book for anyone who ACTUALLY KNOWS the city… 😦

    I can’t remember which book it was, but I’m sure I remember a book once describing the MC casually driving across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and it just rang so false! In reality, the bridge is nuts, there’s ALWAYS traffic, it’s huge and scary: there’s no way someone from overseas would cruise along it all la-di-da-look-at-the-harbour-isn’t-this-lovely. I mean, I’m a local and *I* find it effing terrifying. When I rule the world, I might implement a requirement that all editors must be from the city where the book they’re editing is set… hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads November 2, 2018 / 3:26 pm

      Ha ha… great point about the harbour bridge. I always like going over it as a passenger but definitely not a driver!

      Liked by 1 person

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