Oxford Girl by Plum Sykes


 Oxford Girl is a mini-memoir by the socialite and author Plum Sykes. It mainly deals with her first year at Oxford, and holds a lot of promise: a shy, "poor as a church mouse" yet still upper crust British kid in the late 80's balances her academic life and social life while managing to not smoke a cigarette until her second year. I'm a sucker for any story of rich girls behaving badly, or even behaving, if they get to wear puffy 80's cocktail dresses to parties in dorm rooms. But with all this raw content to work with, the essay left me a little cold. It does provide a window into a world that I wouldn't have seen into otherwise, but the construction of this piece could have used some work.

This was a piece exclusive to Kindle as a part of its Kindle Singles program, which are pieces that are shorter than full length books and less expensive. Frankly, it feels like Sykes rushed her submission - she brings up a lot of topics that are never fully developed. She writes a compelling passage about how her academic tutor reads her the riot act after the first week, but then never mentions her academic progress again. She tells us she goes to a lot of the parties the high society kids are throwing, but only describes one in depth, then telling us that she was actually uncomfortable at the parties. I can see why she was uncomfortable at this party (I won't spoil it but the decor was rather . .  gruesome). But were all parties this way? I need more! She uses a box of memories from Oxford as a framing device, but when she comes back to it at the end, she hadn't used it enough, so you sort of had forgotten its existence.

I have read several Kindle Singles and they have ranged from "one of the best stories I've ever read" to  . .  "wow I wouldn't have finished this if it were a blog post, why did I pay 99c for it?" This piece falls in the middle. I feel like a shorter piece should have more focus and cover fewer topics. That having been said, this piece was interesting just because her world is so different than mine. I was a high school student in a working class town in Iowa during the time period she writes about being a high society British girl at Oxford. Hearing these stories in this format was sort of like sitting down for a cocktail with someone you meet once and will probably never see again, just having a pleasant night trading tales. Despite the construction flaws, it peaked my interest enough for me to download samples of her two novels, Bergdorf Blondes and The Debutante Divorcee. So in the end, even if it wasn't a totally polished essay, and I feel it's a 3/5 star book, it was still worth my time to read.

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