Hey Virtually Readers! I waited literally until the very end of the week to post this but that’s because I was working on another post that will hopefully be actually ready *ahem. Written* soon ish. This is yet another review from the summer.
Title: My Oxford Year
Author: Julia Whelan
Genre: NA/Adult contemporary/romance
Themes: Politics, family, illness.
Similar To: Trade Me by Courtney Milan (maybe because I just read that?!)
This book is about Ella, a Rhodes scholar in Oxford for a year. She falls in love with her tutor and stuff happens. I initially thought it would be super inappropriate because I didn’t realise she was a postgrad student (I mean, student-teacher things just ain’t good) and that the book would be super bad but the relationship wasn’t the problem—it was definitely a romance novel but not in a bad way. Romance novels either focus on the two characters relationship building, with them only getting together at the end, or they get together earlier on, but have to deal with some kind of DramaTM (often cheating or lies) that comes in the way of their relationship. I get annoyed when the entire plot centres on lies, so when the relationship developed soon into the book, I was worried.
However, thankfully, drama wasn’t really an issue. My Oxford Yearis based off a screen play of a yet-to-be made movie (I don’t know if it’s in the works or what). I guess my biggest problems with it were that it felt too much like a movie.
For example, the main character, Ella, doesn’t have much of a backstory/life before Oxford. There are all these allusions to it (‘the people who get Rhodes are the ones who fight for it more than anybody else’) but no examples of how she fought for it. It’s mentioned she wrote an article for The Atlantic, and although she’s studying literature her true passion is education in politics. But while she has this politics job running campaigns from Oxford (the details of which are never explained), her interest in politics isn’t really fleshed out. And her odd phone call that she gets dealing with political things doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot, and just felt distracting. I think it would have been okay in a movie, because there is less time to detail these things. But in a book, I definitely expected more. And then her childhood grief and issues with her mother are told but not really shown. It’s not fully explained and we have to take it at face value. Overall, I felt like Ella’s character was a bit all over the place—politics person who’s studying English for some reason, hard worker (although the study is rarely mentioned), party girl, etc. Also, none of her friends from her past are mentioned, which would make sense in a movie, but a 24-year-old in a book should definitely have some, or some past relationships, that are vaguely relevant.
The setting was one aspect I totally enjoyed, though. I went to Oxford last year (pardon me, I mean to say in 2017) and I liked that I knew about the Radcliffe Camera and Christ Church Meadow and the Bodleian and such. I know the author studied for a year in Oxford, and it totally showed, in a good way. I also liked the scene in Scotland; altogether quite enjoyable.
Then there was the relationship, at the centre of the plot. This is romance novel and a movie (if it does get made). It was kind of interesting, a fling-to-Thing trope (I just made up that phrase but quite like it). Then there was a plot twist/thing that changed it that I totally didn’t see coming, but made sense in light of the fact that it was designed to be a movie and centre on DramaTM. Fortunately, this spanner in the works of the relationship wasn’t about either group lying. (although it wasn’t really a spanner, more of a Thing that Happens That Reveals Deep Truths about the Nature of the World/Morality/Life and Also Greatly Impacts the Main Character.). I don’t know how spoilery this is, to say it turned very TFIOS/Me Before You ish.
Spoiler: It turns out Jamie has cancer and then they stop being a fling and Ella has to deal with this and compares it to her father dying and she basically abandons her friends and studies because she’s super into this guy.
I sound really critical, as I often do in my reviews these days. But although I don’t think this was a super amazing book, and it definitely red like a screen play, but I also really enjoyed reading it. It took me less than 24 hours to finish because the writing was good and I was interested, even though it wasn’t a meaningful book. Overall, I think I’d definitely watch the movie, and it was a cool setting and interesting romance novel concept, if not what I expected. Three ish stars.