Oxford is one of my favourite cities in the UK, so I needed to list books set in Oxford. The City of Dreaming Spires, Oxford, is home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Its stunning architecture, beautiful streets full of history, exciting museums and parks are a must-see. Whenever I visit it, I leave a piece of my heart in one of the buildings and wish to come back as soon as possible. And, yes, I love reading about this fantastic city.
In this list of books set in Oxford, there are classics, contemporary & literary fiction, crime and thrillers and many more. Because it is such an atmospheric city, Oxford is perfect for a crime novel or a classic. If you want to visit this beautiful city (please do, you’ll love it) or want to relive your memories again, make sure to read one of the books set in Oxford on this list. I hope you’ll find a book to your liking. Enjoy!
Books Set in Oxford
The Dictionary of Lost Words – Pip Williams
Motherless and irrepressibly curious, Esme spends her childhood at her father’s feet as he and his team gather words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.
One day, she sees a slip of paper containing a forgotten word flutter to the floor unclaimed.
And so Esme begins to collect words for another dictionary in secret: The Dictionary of Lost Words. But to do so she must journey into a world on the cusp of change as the Great War looms and women fight for the vote. Can the power of lost words from the past finally help her make sense of her future? An interesting one among books set in Oxford.
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them. a timeless classic among books set in Oxford.
An Instance of the Fingerpost – Iain Pears
One of the books set in Oxford in the 1660s – a time and place of great intellectual, religious, scientific and political ferment – this remarkable novel centres around a young woman, Sarah Blundy, who stands accused of the murder of Robert Grove, a fellow of New College. Four witnesses describe the events surrounding his death: Marco da Cola, a Venetian Catholic intent on claiming credit for the invention of blood transfusion; Jack Prescott, the son of a supposed traitor to the Royalist cause, determined to vindicate his father; John Wallis, chief cryptographer to both Cromwell and Charles II, a mathematician, theologian and master spy; and Anthony Wood, the famous Oxford antiquary.
Each one tells their version of what happened but only one reveals the extraordinary truth. Brilliantly written, utterly convincing, gripping from the first page to the last, An Instance of the Fingerpost is a magnificent tour de force among books set in Oxford.
Last Bus to Woodstock – Colin Dexter
One of the most popular books set in Oxford. The death of Sylvia Kaye figured dramatically in Thursday afternoon’s edition of the Oxford Mail. By Friday evening Inspector Morse had informed the nation that the police were looking for a dangerous man – facing charges of wilful murder, sexual assault and rape.
But as the obvious leads fade into twilight and darkness, Morse becomes more and more convinced that passion holds the key… A classic detective story among books set in Oxford.
Secrets of a Charmed Life – Susan Meissner
Current day, Oxford, England. Young American scholar Kendra Van Zant, eager to pursue her vision of a perfect life, interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets about the war that she has kept for decades…beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden—one that will test her convictions and her heart.
1940s, England. As Hitler wages an unprecedented war against London’s civilian population, hundreds of thousands of children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. But even as fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. Acting at cross purposes just as the Luftwaffe rains down its terrible destruction, the sisters are cruelly separated, and their lives are transformed… A historical fiction among books set in Oxford.
Blackout – Connie Willis
A Hugo Award winner among books set in Oxford: Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules.
And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas–to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past. A science-fiction among books set in Oxford.
Everything Under – Daisy Johnson
It’s been sixteen years since Gretel last saw her mother, half a lifetime to forget her childhood on the canals. But a phone call will soon reunite them, and bring those wild years flooding back: the secret language that Gretel and her mother invented; the strange boy, Marcus, living on the boat that final winter; the creature said to be underwater, swimming ever closer.
In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but to wade deeper into their past, where family secrets and aged prophesies will all come tragically alive again.A Booker winner among books set in Oxford.
Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
‘Without this child, we shall all die.’
Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.
As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable. A timeless children’s classics among books set in Oxford.
Heresy – S. J. Parris
A historical mystery among books set in Oxford: England is rife with plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and return the country to the Catholic faith. Defending the realm through his network of agents, the Queen’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham works tirelessly to hunt down all traitors.
His latest recruit is Giordano Bruno, a radical thinker fleeing the Inquisition, who is sent undercover to Oxford to expose a Catholic conspiracy. But he has his own secret mission at the University – one that must remain hidden at all costs.
When a series of hideous murders ruptures close-knit college life, Bruno is compelled to investigate. And what he finds makes it brutally clear that the Tudor throne itself is at stake…
The Last Enchantments – Charles Finch
After graduating from Yale, William Baker, scion of an old line patrician family, goes to work in presidential politics. But when the campaign into which he’s poured his heart ends in disappointment, he decides to leave New York behind, along with the devoted, ambitious, and well-connected woman he’s been in love with for the last four years.
Will expects nothing more than a year off before resuming the comfortable life he’s always known, but he’s soon caught up in a whirlwind of unexpected friendships and romantic entanglements that threaten his safe plans. As he explores the heady social world of Oxford, he becomes fast friends with Tom, his snobbish but affable flatmate; Anil, an Indian economist with a deep love for gangster rap; Anneliese, a German historian obsessed with photography; and Timmo, whose chief ambition is to become a reality television star. What he’s least prepared for is Sophie, a witty, beautiful and enigmatic woman who makes him question everything he knows about himself. An American among books set in Oxford.
The Oxford Murders – Guillermo Martinez
It begins on a summer day in Oxford, when a young Argentine graduate student finds his landlady – an elderly woman who helped crack the Enigma Code during World War II – murdered in cold blood. Meanwhile, a renowned Oxford logician receives an anonymous note bearing a circle and the words “the first of a series.” As the murders begin to pile up and more symbols are revealed, it is up to this unlikely pair to decipher the pattern before the killer strikes again. An exciting thriller among books set in Oxford.
The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon
The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.
It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die. A dystopia among books set in Oxford.
The Madwoman Upstairs – Catherine Lowell
Think you know Charlotte, Emily & Anne? Think again. Samantha Whipple is the last remaining descendent of the illustrious Brontë family, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame. After losing her father, a brilliant author in his own right, it is up to Samantha to piece together the mysterious family inheritance lurking somewhere in her past – yet the only clues she has at her disposal are the Brontë’s own novels. With the aid of her handsome but inscrutable Oxford tutor, Samantha must repurpose the tools of literature to unearth an untold family legacy, and in the process, finds herself face to face with what may be literature’s greatest secret. An interesting one among books set in Oxford.
Dirty Tricks – Michael Dibdin
Dennis and Karen lead a pleasant life in North Oxford until the day one of their dinner guests seduces Karen in the kitchen, setting in motion a chain of events which will destroy the thin veneer of their respectability and lead to ruthless murder.
Dirty Tricks is a brilliant thriller set in contemporary Oxford: a gripping story of sex, ambition and violence with a wickedly humorous twist. A mystery among books set in Oxford.
All Souls – Javier Marías
At High Table in an Oxford college, the pretty young tutor Clare Bayes attracted all eyes, not least to her fetching décollettage. No one’s eyes were sharper, however, than those of the visiting Spanish lecturer, invited as a guest on this occasion, and eventually the two young people were lovers, unbeknown to Clare’s husband. And if the Spaniard was at pains to cover their tracks, his beloved left evidence of adultery with gay abandon – and all this in a university that was a forcing house of gossip and intrigue, a place where “at every word a reputation dies”. A Spanish writer among books set in Oxford.
The Game – A S Byatt
Cassandra is an Oxford don; Julia, her sister, a bestselling novelist. They share a set of disturbing memories of a strange childhood game and of Simon, the handsome young neighbour who loved them both.
Years later Simon re-enters their lives via a television programme on snakes and intrudes into their uneasy compromise of mutual antagonism and distrust. The old, wild emotions surge back, demanding and urgent, and this time the game is played out to a fatal finish. A gem among books set in Oxford.
Jane and Prudence – Barbara Pym
If Jane Cleveland and Prudence Bates seem an unlikely pair to be walking together at an Oxford reunion, neither of them are aware of it. They couldn’t be more different: Jane is a rather incompetent vicar’s wife, who always looks as if she is about to feed the chickens, while Prudence, a pristine hothouse flower, has the most unsuitable affairs. With the move to a rural parish, Jane is determined to find her friend the perfect man. She learns that matchmaking has as many pitfalls as housewifery. A classic among books set in Oxford.
The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Hollinghurst
In October 1940, the handsome young David Sparsholt arrives in Oxford. A keen athlete and oarsman, he at first seems unaware of the effect he has on others – particularly on the lonely and romantic Evert Dax, son of a celebrated novelist and destined to become a writer himself. While the Blitz rages in London, Oxford exists at a strange remove: an ephemeral, uncertain place, in which nightly blackouts conceal secret liaisons. Over the course of one momentous term, David and Evert forge an unlikely friendship that will colour their lives for decades to come. Queer fiction among books set in Oxford.
Jill – Philip Larkin
‘It will, I hope, still qualify for the indulgence traditionally extended to juvenilia,’ wrote Philip Larkin, almost twenty years after the publication of his first novel. But Jill, with its exact evocation of place – Oxford in 1940 – and astute insight into character, emotions and social nuance, requires no such indulgence. It is a classic of its time, and shows many of the qualities that were later to distinguish Larkin’s great, mature poetry. A classic among books set in Oxford.
Zuleika Dobson – Max Beerbohm
One woman’s beauty fells the whole of Oxford in this sidesplitting classic campus novel.
Nobody could predict the consequences when ravishing Zuleika Dobson arrives at Oxford, to visit her grandfather, the college warden. Formerly a governess, she has landed on the occupation of prestidigitator, and thanks to her overwhelming beauty—and to a lesser extent her professional talents—she takes the town by storm, gaining admittance to her grandfather’s college. It is there, at the institution inspired by Beerbohm’s own alma mater, that she falls in love with the Duke of Dorset, who duly adores her in return. Ever aware of appearances, however, Zuleika breaks the Duke’s heart when she decides that she must abandon the match. A love story among books set in Oxford.
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Are there any books set in Oxford you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?