Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book Review: Oxford Messed Up

I recently received a review copy of the novel Oxford Messed Up, by Andrea Kayne Kaufman. The book's protagonist, Gloria, is off to Oxford to study feminist poetry as a Rhodes Scholar. When we meet Gloria, she's about to board the plane; she will proceed not to drink a thing for the entire plane ride, because she cannot pee until she reaches her private bathroom at Oxford. Gloria has OCD. Really bad OCD. Scrub the bathroom for hours till your hands are raw OCD.

When she arrives, she learns to her dismay that she does not have a private bathroom after all. In fact, she'll be sharing with Henry, a charming, but pretty grimy sort, with issues of his own. Gloria and her OCD are not pleased. But despite his griminess, Henry is a huge Van Morrison fan who slowly charms his way into huge Van Morrison fan Gloria's good graces and they forge a fragile but really sweet friendship.

When Gloria's fear of germs ultimately leads to a breakdown of sorts, Henry steps in, with his psychologist sister's help, to help Gloria through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and in a flash, she's overcoming her OCD (more on that later).

There was a lot about this book I really enjoyed. The writing is lovely, although the characters do swear a lot. The characters of Henry and Gloria are well developed, and you really find yourself rooting for them. I also really liked how much they cared for each other and how hard they were willing to work both to help each other and themselves.

OCD is treated with respect, and boy is it nice to see exposure therapy given some attention.

The portrayal of Gloria's OCD didn't quite ring true to me, although it was far better than most. Gloria's inner voice was always thinking "foul germs, foul germs," when I wanted the voice to be saying "what if, what if." At the same time, some things felt just right: becoming dehydrated while trying to avoid porta-potties and refusing social events because it's all just too much, for instance. And a scene in which slippery lotion on her hands keeps Gloria from storming out of a room actually made me laugh out loud.

My quibbles:
- her recovery, while it had a few bumps, still seemed unusually fast and smooth, with very little detail of the discomfort this process likely would have entailed. Maybe it would have been boring to read about that, but as is, it just felt a little too easy.

- in a book that seems targeted at women, I was astounded at how many times I had to read about Gloria's breasts. Once or twice, it would have told me that Henry was attracted to her chest and that he noticed it. But really, the tenth time it just felt icky.

- speaking of breasts, one scene between Gloria and her breast cancer surviving advisor was so wildly inappropriate that I briefly set the book down after reading it. I felt the same important message could have been achieved differently, and in fact just had been achieved differently.

Despite my complaints, the book and its characters really did draw me in, and I found myself picking it up in most of my free moments last week. If any of you choose to read it, I'd be curious to hear your reactions to the book's portrayal of OCD and its treatment.

If you'd like to check the book out, the Ebook edition will be available for $0.99 on Amazon from May 1-5.


  1. I got this book on my Kindle 2 or 3 weeks ago..I don't remember what I paid but it was a lot more than .99 cents - sigh- oh well. Glad you liked it, now I can look forward to reading it after I finish the next two for my book club.

  2. Ann, I read and did a review of this book too. I have the same problems with Gloria's quick and easy recovery. It didn't seem painful or difficult, and it was so fast. She didn't start it until November, I think, and then it's the end of December and she's portrayed as practically "cured." I worry that that could send an inaccurate message about just how difficult it can be to fight OCD.

    I liked the portrayal of Gloria's cleaning rituals--I thought they were spot on--and I liked the characters. The scene with her adviser was rather unbelivable and didn't seem to fit. But overall the book was a good read.

    1. I noticed you'd written a review, Tina, and I made myself avoid reading it until I'd finished mine to keep from being influenced! I was interested in your feeling like the portrayal of Gloria's cleaning was very relatable. I've always been a hand washer, but never a "cleaner," so maybe that was the issue. In fact, I'm sort of grimy myself! I guess we all experience OCD just a little differently.

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  4. It's great to read book reviews by OCD sufferers...what better way to get an idea of how "authentic" the book is.......thanks for taking the time to fill us in!

  5. I haven't heard of this book yet. Thanks for the review. Have you read "Triggered"? I think it's by Fletcher something.....I want to pick that one up. I agree - recovery isn't a straight line for sure.

  6. nice idea.. thanks for sharing.