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.
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