Sunday, July 15, 2012

Oxford Messed Up - Love in the time of OCD


Title: Oxford Messed Up
Publication Date: November 11th, 2011
Publisher: Grant Place Press


Rhodes Scholar Gloria Zimmerman has come to Oxford University to study feminist poetry. Yet the rigors of academia pale in comparison to her untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, fueled by her overachieving parents and manifested in a deathly aversion to germs and human contact. Her next-door neighbor (who is also, to her mortification, her loomate) is Henry Young, the appealing but underachieving English music student. Still mourning the death of his supportive mother while enduring the mockery of his disapproving and merciless father, Henry is haunted by the unexpectedly serious ramifications of a reckless and tragic youth. Gloria and Henry's relationship evolves from a shared obsession with Van Morrison's music into a desire to fill the gaps in each other’s lives. Yet the constraints of a debilitating illness and the looming revelation of a catastrophic secret conspire to throw their worlds into upheaval and threaten the possibilities of their unlikely yet redemptive love.

About the Author

Oxford Messed Up was honored with a 2012 “IPPY” award from the Independent Publisher Book Awards for Best Adult Fiction E-Book, earning a Gold medal for being among the most “heartfelt, unique, outspoken and experimental” entries. It has also been named a Finalist in the E-Book category of the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

As both an educator and attorney, Andrea Kayne Kaufman has worked closely on issues relating to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Kaufman is currently the chair of the Department of Leadership, Language and Curriculum at the DePaul University College of Education in Chicago. She earned a bachelor's degree from Vassar College, a master's degree in Education from Harvard University, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

She lives with her husband and two children in Chicago.


What, sometimes I ask myself, makes a novel great? Is it the characters? The narrative? The dialogue? The setting? I can never come up with a conclusive answer to this, and simply saying "all of the above" seems like such a cop out - so I pacify myself with the only answer that makes the most sense to me, "What makes a novel great, is the way it makes the reader feel." If this is the gauge used to determine the greatness of a novel, "Oxford Messed Up" by Andrea Kayne Kaufman is one of the greatest novels I've ever read. Upon finishing the novel, I was sad to depart with its wonderful characters, maniacally searching for more titles by the same author, and then catatonic for nearly two hours just thinking about it - all after I clutched it to my chest and wailed for 15 minutes straight. No, I'm not crazy... okay, yes, maybe I am. But this novel, and author Andrea Kayne Kaufman, will tell you... crazy can be beautiful. 

Gloria Zimmerman a graduate student and a Rhodes Scholar who, despite being incredibly brilliant, is a perfectionist with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In addition to being an overachiever, and completely friendless, Gloria is in a very dependent relationship with "Oliver" who, like Gloria, is immensely intelligent, but can be quite demeaning and controlling, and is Gloria's mentor in terms of her ritualistic behavior. At the beginning of the novel we find Gloria and Oliver embarking on a journey towards Oxford, where Gloria is going to study. When Gloria arrives, she realizes that she is sharing a "loo" with Henry Young, a particularly untidy ex-junkie, across the way. For Gloria, an obsessive germ-phobe, "cleaning the toilet was a test of her competence and loyalty to Oliver, her god, and the precept of staying in control.” 

From here begins the journey of Gloria and Henry, a mutual journey of self-discovery, set to the background score of Van Morrison songs and poetry. Gloria finds that she is distancing herself from Oliver, and beginning to laugh and lose herself in the devil-may-care attitude of Henry's, while Henry deals with his own issues and demons. They revel in the lyricism of Van Morrison songs, the exploration of Sylvia Plath's poetry, and compare notes on their families - both harangued by dysfunctional families, and parents who have only managed to damage their children more than nourish them. And together, they set out to survive life at Oxford, and make happiness their choice. But it is never quite as simple as that, now, is it? As they discover more about each other, they discover more about their own self, and in doing so, strain an already unlikely bond.

The beauty of Kaufman's "Oxford Messed Up" lies in the multi-dimensional characters that are both rich and real, a narrative that soars in its simplicity and plunges into immense emotional depth at the same time, and prose that is beautifully crafted. What really, and absolutely, blows your mind is the way in which Andrea Kayne Kaufman explores the human spirit so beautifully, approaches the subject of mental health with such sensitivity and such intricacy, and creates her characters with such intimacy that you cannot help but become invested in their relationship, and attached to them This is an absolutely brilliant novel, especially for a debut, and one I believe should become part of our curriculum, at least for students of Psychology - the kind of novel that generations down the road will read, seeking comfort in it's characters. I wanted to kiss the hands that wrote this novel - I still might, if I ever am lucky enough to meet it's author (it's okay, Andrea, I'll bring the hand sanitizer!). As a voracious reader, and an absolute worshiper of literature, I'm constantly searching for books that are life-changing - I assure you, "Oxford Messed Up" is just that kind of novel. I hope you will pick up this book, and I hope that it will leave you with as much joy and elation as it bestowed upon me. And, finally, I leave you with lyrics to a Van Morrison song, one I particularly love, that sums up precisely how I feel about this book...

"I've been searching a long time
For someone exactly like you
I've been traveling all around the world
Waiting for you to come through.
Someone like you makes it all worth while
Someone like you keeps me satisfied. 
Someone exactly like you."

My Rating : 5/5 Stars *****

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I was not compensated monetarily, or in any other way, for my opinion. The opinions stated in this review are solely mine, and are not representative of views of the author, or publishing company, of this book. 


  1. Thank you so so much for such a thoughtful, eloquent, nuanced review. I am so touched and deeply honored that you not only took the time to read Oxford Messed Up, but also allowed Gloria and Henry and their flaws and aspirations to seep inside. They and I are so very very grateful and we would gladly kiss your hands sans hand sanitizer. Please keep in touch.

    1. Dear Andrea,

      You have no idea how much that comment means to me. I'm the kind of reader for whom the characters become family, and for me, Gloria, Henry AND YOU are like family now. I shall forever cherish this amazing novel - and I'm trying very hard to make our meeting a reality! :)


  2. I'd never heard of this, but after such a glowing review, I'll have to keep an eye out for it. It sounds like they are amazing, multi-faceted characters who I could love.

    Carol's Notebook

    1. Carol,

      I love YA novels, and I love light-hearted reading, but mostly I'm about REAL literature that reflects life - and "Oxford Messed Up" is definitely one such novel. It is written with such brilliance that it will surely make its way into your heart, if you give it a try, and just stick by it. I hope you pick it up, and I hope you enjoy it very much.


  3. I have not heard of this book before- but it sounds very interesting. I like the fact that you didn't want the book to be over! OCD is something that fascinates me- so I am very intrigued by the characters. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I am very impressed with the way you have you have narrated the review of this book and one thing I must say that this review can cause anyone to read this book. If the review is so beautiful then what about the book, the answer is obvious. I will certainly read this book and indeed suggest my friends to read it.

    Serial Killer