Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

Date Published: November 17, 2011
Publisher: Grant Place Press
ISBN: 978-0984675104
Pages: 336
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Book Summary:  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.

My Thoughts:  The music of Van Morrison connects Gloria and Henry. They are different and flawed individuals with little in common but their extreme passion for that music. Gloria wouldn’t have spoken to the cute but messy, unkempt Henry if not for the strains of Van Morrison she heard coming from his dorm room. Gloria’s a devoted loner as a result of her extreme OCD. She hates being touched by other people and can’t deal with germs. She carries wipes and hand sanitizer with her everywhere. Her hands are red, raw and painful looking from relentless cleaning. People tend to keep their distance from Gloria and, although she‘s terribly lonely, she prefers it that way. Then she meets Henry.

Henry’s entranced by Gloria. He can’t take his eyes off of her. Her hands don‘t bother him but it upsets him that she’s in physical and emotional pain. Henry understands that Gloria has OCD and related issues about which he’s also completely unfazed. Henry wants to help Gloria and talks his physician sister, Claire, into helping him help Gloria. Henry’s ignoring his own, significant, problems mainly because he lacks self-confidence and loathes himself. Henry used to be a drug addict and, although he’s recovered, it’s had a lasting impact on his life. Believing he’s ruined his life, Henry‘s essentially given up on himself. Henry doesn’t grasp the implications of bringing Gloria into his life. He’s too taken with her to think about much else. Henry is surprised when Gloria accepts his plan to help her but he’s even more surprised by the conditions of her acceptance.

Gloria counters Henry’s proposal with her own: she agrees to allow Henry to help her with her OCD issues, assisted by Claire, if Henry allows Gloria to help him write his thesis. Henry’s terrified since he believes he isn’t capable of writing a thesis but it’s the only way he can spend time with Gloria. Gloria’s focus and concern has always been her research and class work. She’s at Oxford to study feminist poetry. But, for the first time in her life, Gloria’s distracted. She can’t stop thinking about Henry. Henry’s willingness to help her control her OCD behavior tantalizes Gloria but also scares her. Still, even Gloria can’t dismiss how happy and content she feels when with Henry. This is a new and wonderful experience for her. She also believe in Henry’s potential and knows he’s much more intelligent and capable then he believes. She relishes the idea of bringing Henry into her world of research and study.

Andrea Kayne Kaufman’s book is a compelling story of two damaged, frightened and dysfunctional people. As they get to know each other and spend more time together, their love and respect grows. But there are numerous obstacles on the way to a committed relationship for Gloria and Henry. Gloria’s dysfunctional parents have big expectations of her. Her father wants her to excel in her studies so he can brag about her. Gloria’s mother is concerned that she marry a wealthy, society man so her mother can hold her head high among her friends. Henry’s father expects nothing of Henry and thrives on belittling him. Then there’s Gloria’s OCD which has a major hold on her and threatens her recovery every day. But the greatest obstacle is Henry’s secret which he refuses to divulge, convinced he will lose Gloria forever. As Gloria and Henry grow closer, Henry’s secret becomes more of a problem. He cannot spend his life with Gloria without telling her or risking she discovers what he’s hiding.

My favorite parts of this book was being able to watch Gloria grow and change into a more open and happy woman. I loved the calm and strength she found in Van Morrison’s music and how the music enabled her to connect with Henry. I also enjoyed reading how, with the help of Henry and Claire, as well as medicine she used to refuse to take, Gloria begins to see herself in a different light. It’s thrilling to read along as she begins to blossom. She helps Henry with his thesis and surprises both of them with her ability to open his eyes to the intelligence and ability he has. Gloria’s pride in herself gives her the courage to try other things.

I wish that Ms. Kaufman had written more specifically about the ways in which Henry helped Gloria fight her OCD which had a strong hold on her. It was glossed over for the most part with a few general references and Gloria’s behavior seemed to change too easily. I also felt that there were a few areas in the book in which I had to suspend my belief in reality a little too much. One specific scene was when Henry defends his thesis and Gloria calls on her professor for help. I felt that this wasn’t necessary in a novel with two strong protagonist and fascinating, absorbing storylines.

Overall, I found this book to be a captivating story about two wounded individuals who help each other heal and become strong enough together to face the real world. This is an absorbing book that’s difficult to put down once you start reading. Ms Kaufman does an amazing job of showing how the music of Van Morrison impacts Gloria and Henry and helps them each to deal with the dysfunctional worlds they’ve been living in. As a fan of Van Morrison, that was my initial interest in this book but Gloria and Henry’s story quickly got my attention. I recommend this book for any reader interested in OCD and the ability of music to help and heal.

Thank you to for sending me a copy of Oxford Messed Up via Grant Place Press.


  1. I've always thought that highly intelligent people seem to be at more risk of mental illness - maybe their brains work too much, meaning they just can't be content?

    I'd not heard of this book before, so thanks for posting a review of it :)

  2. I agree with Sam's comment, and have to say that I have a very close friend with severe OCD, and it is crippling to her. I have such respect and admiration for her, but it can be such a painful and debilitating disease. I would love to read this book and see if it sheds any light on something that may help her. Fascinating and wonderful review today. It sounds like a intriguing book.

  3. I have known people with OCD tendencies over the years but that's about it. Once while at Toys 'R' Us, I ran into a woman and her son, the woman having OCD. She couldn't exit the store without crossing the exit area several times. She apologized to us, explaining she had OCD. She was very matter of fact about it--which isn't too surprising given how many times she's probably had to explain it. Of course, she didn't owe us an explanation at all. I probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise--or maybe thought she was playing a game with her son. Anyway, that's neither here nor there. :-)

    The book does sound interesting. It's too bad it didn't go more into how Henry helped Gloria with her OCD, but it sounds like it is worth reading even despite that. Great review, Amy!

  4. I've read a couple books recently with characters who have OCD, though this one sounds more serious than those. I do think Gloria's behavior changing so easily seems a bit unreal, especially if the author doesn't show how she's been helped by Henry. At any rate, great review!

  5. OCD is a horribly debilitating illness, but it does make for interesting characters. This novel sounds like a winner!

  6. Thank you for your review of Oxford Messed Up! I'm so pleased you enjoyed it and I'm happy to find this discussion. For those of you interested in learning more about OCD and its effective treatments, here are some resources:

  7. I think I'd like to give this one a try. I'm wondering what Henry's secret is...