Ultimately disappointing, and I am partly responsible for this unfulfilling read.
I'd heard the author on a podcast (Wicked Wallflowers Club) and the entire time she was speaking thought she sounded remarkably pompous, talking about how she was a Rhodes finalist (but you weren't selected so ... sounds embarrassing to hear people, years after the fact, talk about how close they came to something), how she'd attended Oxford through her American uni and was a "real Oxonian," not "granted privileges" like actual Rhodes scholars (so then why would she apply for the scholarship if she'd already an "authentic" experience?), how she is an important actress and is "really good friends" with X, Y, Z. I'm really good friends with a woman named Jessica who oversees providing healthy, fulfilling meals to the hungry in our county, so what's your point? And the author is an important actress who pays her bills by narrating books -- the way she kept stressing "actress" felt as if she were denigrating the profession which puts a roof over her head.
So as I wrote, totally my fault for purchasing (and reading) the book anyway, but the hosts of the podcast were keen on it, plus the author does really like tea (me too), and I liked the way they all (hosts and author) said it's not a romance book, it's a woman's book. Now I love romance and I love chick-lit and I love women's fiction (which empowers women, kinda following the Bechdel Test, if you will).
"My Oxford Year" is a flat-out romance. There is ZERO female empowerment to be found in this story.
And that's fine, but this is not a woman's book. This is not a book where, in the opening scene, our protagonist, Ella, is offered a job advising a widowed candidate on education in the presidential primary and where we actually see Ella doing *any* work, providing *any* knowledge about American education (except that the Arts are important -- yep, got it). If Ella loves English lit so much, why do we only know about the one paper she writes, and that's in her first week of classes? We learn nothing else about her true life at and in Oxford. Sure, we learn she makes three friends, but there is no deep dive into those friendships, at all.
Instead it's a romance with one of her teachers, Jamie, where they agree to a purely sexual relationship, not an intimate relationship. Granted, they do ultimately develop an emotional connection and it turns out ***SPOILER*** that he is terminally ill, as was his brother (who earlier succumbed to same disease), and Ella decides to live with Jamie while he's undergoing and dealing with the after effects of treatment. So we know about Jamie's living on his bathroom floor and puking,***END OF SPOILER*** but not about Ella's, the WOMAN, classes, classwork, work for the US presidential candidate hopeful.
At the very end of the book Ella does decide to do what she wants to do, not what society or academia says one ought to. Listen, that's great and all, but what Ella chooses to do is still in service of her boyfriend, so I'm not sure how much of a woman's book this is. I think in many ways that is truth, that many of us do subjugate our own wishes / needs in service of those around us (spouse, children, parents, boss), but I'm in my 40s, not a Bright Young Thing in my early-20s who was chosen a Rhodes Scholar AND was handpicked to be the Education Adviser to someone running in the presidential primaries. I mean -- that is some young person! Must be incredibly bright, insightful, observant. I'll read a book about her! But that's not Ella. At all.
Would I recommend this book? Not on your life. Is it the worst book I've ever read? Not even close. Is it a keeper? Nope.