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The Innocents by Francesca Segal

The Innocents (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Francesca Segal

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3153735,272 (3.38)54
Title:The Innocents
Authors:Francesca Segal
Info:Voice (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 288 pages
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The Innocents by Francesca Segal (2012)



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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
I read this book because of rave reviews in the press. I even finished it because I hate to abandon a book unless it is really terrible. It is well written but just another story of 20s something angst in a closed society and the difficulties and comforts that conformance to societal norms produce. In this case, the closed society is the London Jewish community. Segal does a reasonable job of describing that community. However, I found the book boring ... if that is the correct antonym of "page-turner". I thought perhaps it is more of a female book than a male book, but my wife hated it and abandoned it. ( )
  rondoctor | Jan 28, 2014 |
It's always interesting to see what modern authors do when they use the framework of a classic and update the story. Francesca Segal has taken Edith Wharton's brilliant novel Age of Innocence, modernized it, and moved it to an insular, traditional conservative North London Jewish community, a society both very different and at the same time similar to the wealthy New York society Wharton immortalized in so many of her works. Although it shares much thematically with the original, it doesn't follow exactly, updating and changing the questions of morality, expectation, and conformity presented within its pages.

The novel opens with Adam and Rachel, having dated for twelve years, newly engaged and attending shul on the holiest of holies, Yom Kippur, when Adam discovers that Rachel's scandalous cousin, Ellie, is also in the synagogue and causing murmurings in the congregation not only because of her unexpected presence but also because of her inappropriate and intentionally provocative attire. Ellie's reappearance in this tightly knit community causes shock waves to course through both the community as a whole and also through the finally settled future of Adam and Rachel.

Anyone who knows the original Wharton story knows the bones of the plot to come and Segal stays true to the expected conflicts. The childishly sweet and patient Rachel ignores Adam's growing fascination with Ellie, content in the solidity of her expectations and their ability to overcome anything that might intrude unpleasantly on her long awaited marriage. Adam himself feels a loathing attraction to Ellie and a compulsion to defend her unconventionality and passion to those who would condemn her for her choices. Strangely enough, that she is seen as an almost pariah in the world he's lived in his whole life only heightens his fascination and lust. Although Ellie is younger than he is, she is far more worldly than Adam is and certainly more mindful of the cost of a life outside of the stated mores of a particular community. Not only has Ellie grown up away from the strictures of this conservative enclave, living in America, but she appeared nude in an art house film (or porn flick depending on who is passing judgment on the movie), she's done drugs, and is having an affair with a married art dealer. She is portrayed very much as a bad girl unconcerned with how her actions reflect on others, especially her family. And yet she is not unaware of the reactions to the scandals of her life and she does care, very deeply in fact.

But no matter how desperately obsessed Adam becomes, he will have to decide between the security of the known, duty, and complacency versus an exciting spark, flaring passion, tortured emotions, and defying the expectations of the world that has nurtured him his whole life, folding him into its embrace especially tightly after the early, unexpected death of his father. He must decide what is most important, the momentary excitement of the unknown or the long planned for future stretching out before him. Segal's debut novel revisits the timeless themes of Wharton's work although she hasn't quite managed to transfer the tale entirely convincingly to the present given the enormous difference in societal mores now as compared to then even in a closed community like the one in which Adam and Rachel live. And she shies away from the almost crushing poignance at the end of the original. But the novel is well written and interesting with sharp insights into temptation, relinquishment, and socially prescribed denial. Adam and Ellie's attraction doesn't have the requited urgency and repressed passion of the original and Rachel is not nearly as naively innocent either, instead coming off as falsely childish. Despite these differences, as a stand alone novel rather than just an homage to Wharton, this is a very fascinating anthropological look at the strictures of the conservative North London Jewish community and what constitutes right and good behaviour and the privilege of membership within it. ( )
  whitreidtan | Nov 21, 2013 |
Downloaded this book to read on vacation as I imagined it to be "light" and easy to read. It was easy to read -- and hard to put down and definitely not just "light." I loved Wharton's "Age of Innocence" and I believe I loved this one equally as much. Although we are living in an age when we think there is no innocence, some cultures create their own version. I felt the depiction of the closeness and closed-ness of the Jewish culture to be very interesting and, although I have no first hand knowledge, believable.

There is also some food for thought here: does family closeness automatically mean a lack of freedom? Is freedom really what everyone desires or is it as Janis so aptly said "nothing left to lose?" Just because the "establishment" finds something wrong; does that automatically make it right? What is the real value of family closeness; what does one give up rejecting that?

In short, I really liked this novel much more than I even thought. Highly recommended whether or not one has read the "Age of Innocence." ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 23, 2013 |
A Jewish angst-fest about Adam, who is getting married to Rachel, but finds himself drawn to her cousin Ellie. That's the novel in a nutshell, really. I appreciated the insights, good and bad, into the North London Jewish community - especially the food! - and found all of the characters to be believable if not sympathetic, but the whole plot is more of a drawn-out short story from a woman's magazine than a novel. Well written, but too introspective to get through in one sitting. (Edited to add: might have found the experience more stimulating had I realised while reading that this is a modern re-telling of Wharton's The Age of Innocence! D'oh!) ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Aug 2, 2013 |
Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson is probably the name that currently springs to mind if one is looking for novels about the experience of being Jewish in modern day Britain. Unfortunately, I have so far failed to warm to any of his books that I have started. Segal's book is a less self-consciously serious creation that is more likely to be shortlisted by Richard and Judy than by a Booker panel, but I do not think that is a bad thing. For me it was an entertaining read, that offered me an insight into a community I knew little about.

The novel is split into two parts. The first concentrates on the strengths of the close-knit community in which Adam and Rachel have spent most of their lives. This is a community in which everyone knows everyone, where most people still know their classmates from school, where mothers are all powerful, and where people's personal and professional lives are also closely intertwined. There may be clear signs of danger for the pair's long-lasting relationship, but the predominant tone of this part of the book is one of safety and continuity.

There are, of course, few novels in which things run smoothly from start to finish: that is not the stuff of which drama is made. Accordingly, things take a turn for the worse in the second part. One element of this has been clearly flagged from the start, but the dangers of that blurred line between the professional and personal provided, for me at least, a more surprising additional crisis.

The least convincing element for me was the use of the premature death of his father to excuse Adam's behaviour. I got the impression that his actions might actually be better be explained as a by-product of gliding through life without ever really taking risks and only ever doing what was expected.

Food is obviously a significant part of Jewish life. One of my favourite lines (which I did not note and have not been able to find) suggests that all Jewish festivals are essential about the same thing. It goes something like 'they tried to kill us, they failed, so let's eat' - a rather neat summation of a few thousand years of history. ( )
  dsc73277 | Apr 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
It's a stroke of brilliance on Segal's part to demonstrate the striking similarities between the polished social manners of waspish 19th-century New York and 21st-century Hampstead Garden Suburb – with the added frisson of a last laugh, given Wharton's antisemitism.


Yet Segal makes the story her own...'The Innocents' is a compelling read and Segal writes with a delicate, understated elegance. Given the current obsession with quirky anti-heros and narratives bordering on magical-realist, Segal's more traditional approach (apt, given her subject matter) is refreshing.
Part ambiguous morality tale, part guidebook on north London Jewish community culture, this is a hugely enjoyable first novel...The Innocents asks a simple question: how do you know you've married the right person? And it gives a complicated answer. The end result falls somewhere between Charlotte Mendelson's When We Were Bad (about a matriarchal Jewish rabbi) and David Nicholl's One Day (with its theme of mismatched love) and is all the more pleasing for that.

Perhaps not one to read if you've just got engaged, though.
In a humorous re-working of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, the Costa Prize-winning debut novelist, Francesca Segal substitutes 1870s New York with present-day north-west London. It takes chutzpah to appropriate such a well-loved classic, but Segal parallels the two convention-bound worlds with aplomb...Throughout this classily composed comedy of manners, Segal mirrors the constrained social code of Wharton's Fifth Avenue. As we watch Adam face a series of increasingly exquisite dilemmas we start to nurse the forlorn hope that this compliant son might yet go rogue and smash up his very nearly happy life. But who are we kidding? When this tightly-knit community closes ranks, there is no escape.
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In the rotation of crops there was a recognised season for wild oats; but they were not to be sown more than once.

-Edith Wharton,
'The age of innocence'
For my parents
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Adam had, for the occasion, bought a new suit.
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Book description
A smart and slyly funny tale of love, temptation, confusion, and commitment; a triumphant and beautifully executed recasting of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

Newly engaged and unthinkingly self-satisfied, twenty-eight-year-old Adam Newman is the prize catch of Temple Fortune, a small, tight-knit Jewish suburb of London. He has been dating Rachel Gilbert since they were both sixteen and now, to the relief and happiness of the entire Gilbert family, they are finally to marry. To Adam, Rachel embodies the highest values of Temple Fortune; she is innocent, conventional, and entirely secure in her community—a place in which everyone still knows the whereabouts of their nursery school classmates. Marrying Rachel will cement Adam’s role in a warm, inclusive family he loves.
But as the vast machinery of the wedding gathers momentum, Adam feels the first faint touches of claustrophobia, and when Rachel’s younger cousin Ellie Schneider moves home from New York, she unsettles Adam more than he’d care to admit. Ellie—beautiful, vulnerable, and fiercely independent—offers a liberation that he hadn’t known existed: a freedom from the loving interference and frustrating parochialism of North West London. Adam finds himself questioning everything, suddenly torn between security and exhilaration, tradition and independence. What might he be missing by staying close to home?
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In a small, tight-knit Jewish suburb of London, one young man's pre-wedding panic illuminates the universal conflict between responsibility and passion.

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