When in England: My Oxford Year | 2018
The Sum of It:
Ella Durran is living THE DREAM. She's received a Rhodes Scholarship to spend a year studying literature at OXFORD (#hearteyesforever), PLUS her political savviness has landed her an educational policy gig with an American presidential candidate #yougogirl! While a high pressure job like political consultation might seem stressful (especially given the fact that she's needing to do it long distance from England!), Ella is determined to make it work AND not let it keep her from enjoying the full Oxford experience. And experience Oxford she does! Fish and chips! Fancy college dinners! Pubs! Bicycling through the streets! A group of pals that nearly puts the supporting cast of Notting Hill to shame! And, of course, a devilishly handsome Brit.
After a delightfully rom-com-esque meet cute that I think Mindy Kaling would give two thumbs up, Ella strikes up a romance with fellow Oxonian, Jamie Davenport, feeling secure in the knowledge that the relationship isn't, in fact, CAN'T, be a serious one since she's only in the country for a year, with promises of a fancy political job when she returns to the States. But the more she gets to know the mysterious Jamie, the harder she starts to fall for him. And when she finally discovers his most hidden secret, she realizes her year in Oxford is going to test her in ways she couldn't have imagined.
The B & C Treatment:
There are so many things that I loved about this book. I have always been a major Anglophile, and after Emily and I visited England together last year, following Ella's British adventure hit home even harder for me. Her giddiness at walking the streets, eating her first fish and chips, her awe at the academic architecture of Oxford was LITERALLY how I felt when I was there. Julia Whelan has given Ella such a fun, witty voice in this book, and was completely charmed by her experiences as she settles in to her Oxford life. You can tell Whelan is writing from experience (having studied at Oxford herself IRL!) and so the book has a very genuine feel. And while I initially felt a bit skeptical at the cliché-ness of her romantic interest, the rogue-ish Jamie Davenport also grew on me.
In the interest of being completely honest with my review, I do need to also touch on the things I didn't completely love about this book. We do our best to be spoiler-free in our recaps and reviews, so I will not give anything away, but say that the story takes a turn that, like Ella, I wasn't prepared for and it left me a bit frustrated. I enjoyed the first half this book because it felt fresh and like an engaging picture of life in Oxford, but I felt the second half of the book was a bit stale in pursuing a more “tragic romance” storyline. Whelan's command of prose and plot does keep the last half of this book from feeling like a copy of similar novels, but in the end I was hoping for a twist as unique as the initial premise.
However, overall, I was glad I read My Oxford Year. The experiential language made me desperate to get on a plane bound for London PRONTO, and her ability to create such vivid characters makes it easy to see how this book is already being developed in a feature film! And, as Ella learns, sometimes life (and books!) don't always go the way you've planned and you have to enjoy the journey no matter how the story ends.
Many thanks to the good people at William Morrow for sending us a copy of My Oxford Year so we could write this honest review!
You may like My Oxford Year if you like:
- Experiential novels like Charles Finch's The Last Enchantments and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.
- Romances that don't shy away from heartbreak like Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.