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The Innocents: Book summary and reviews of The Innocents by Francesca Segal

The Innocents

A Novel

by Francesca Segal

The Innocents
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • Published in USA  Jun 2012
    288 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

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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Book Awards

  • award image Costa Book Awards, 2012

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. The book is full of delightful moments... Segal took the theme of a well-known novel and made it her own. Lively and entertaining." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Readers who enjoy fast-paced, gently satirical literary novels, fans of Allegra Goodman, and book group participants will find a Shabbat dinner's worth of noshing in this accomplished debut novel by the daughter of author Erich Segal." - Library Journal

"Segal thoughtfully ties in family Holocaust lore and high-holiday gatherings to show that those long-standing bonds are tough to break. Even if the plot and themes are second-hand, this is an emotionally and intellectually astute debut." - Kirkus Reviews

"It is impossible to resist this novel's wit, grace, and charm." - Lauren Groff, author of The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia

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Reader Reviews

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Barbara W. (Watertown, NY)

Delicious!
A totally tasty read! The underlying connection to Edith Wharton's book enhanced the storyline as my mind kept making comparisons to characters and plot. The contemporary setting created a completely updated twist on Wharton's classic themes.

Jane D. (Boulder, CO)

Innocents and innocence
I was mesmerized by this book. I always like getting to know a different world, and in this case it was the Jewish community in London. It does exactly what I love about good literature—shows the universal human condition and emotions in a setting and culture different from my own. It also touches on current financial issues. A very enjoyable read. I didn't want it to end.

Emily G. (Clear Lake, MN)

An excellent revisioning of a timeless classic
I’ve been eager to read this book since I first heard about it and so was thrilled to receive a pre-publication copy from BookBrowse. Edith Wharton is one of my favorite writers. So, with a little fear about a rewriting and a lot of excitement, I dove into The Innocents.

Could anyone write as wonderfully as Edith? Alas, no, but Segal does an admirable job and, at points, echoes Wharton so strongly it made me smile: “She signed, and the timbre of her sigh could have resonated with anything from exhaustion to despair.” Segal resets Age of Innocence in a modern, Jewish community in London and meshes her changes nearly seamlessly with Age of Innocence’s plot. Even the character names, Adam instead of Newland for example, hit the right note between old and new. I never forgot I was reading a rewriting of Wharton, and was long annoyed at the recasting of Countess Olenska as the younger Ellie, but I was continually surprised at how astutely Segal changed details to make the social commentary of Wharton’s work shed just as much light on modern life. From the older-man sex and money scandal, to the loss of pension funds, each detail worked to create a modern and compelling story.

Generally, I am skeptical of and disappointed in modern rewritings of classics, but The Innocents didn’t disappoint. Segal showed both her power as a writer and the timelessness of Wharton’s observations and assessments. I think Wharton would be pleased; I was.

Darra W. (Walnut Creek, CA)

Worthy Homage to a Classic
I was attracted to this book because of early comparisons to "The Age of Innocence," one of my all-time favorite novels. I figured I'd either love it or hate it. The "jury" is in: Segal has crafted a deft homage to Wharton's Pulitzer classic, transporting the focus from the upper-echelons of late-19th-century NY citizenry to contemporary North West London, the established center of the city's thriving Jewish society. The plot, the characters, the themes are very much the same, but unfold with a freshness and flair that has much to offer today's reader. How much have things really changed in 140 years? A great choice for book clubs--lots to discuss; would make a great tandem read with Wharton's "Age."

Shirley L. (Norco, LA)

An Enjoyable Read
First and foremost reading a novel should be enjoyable and The Innocents certainly was. The characters were complex and not stereotyped. The description of this modern Jewish community was haunting beautiful. Themes of risk versus safety, the individual versus the family, passion versus comfort were all thoughtfully developed. Lots of shades of gray were provided and no easy answers given. An intelligent, warm, quiet read that I found thoroughly satisfying.

Rosemary C. (Austin, TX)

The Innocents
A well-done story about the contrast of the somewhat banal everyday, secure, familiar and predictable life with the exotic and unfamiliar that can create an almost irresistible draw. I thought this book a slow read at first, but I think that is what the author intended to exemplify the everyday life of Adam and the Jewish community in London. The pace picked up with the introduction of the forbidden cousin and Adam's strong attraction to her. The characters are well-developed and likable, and this reader could feel empathy for all of them. I could sense the almost claustrophobic atmosphere of the tight-knit community, but also appreciate its warmth, generosity and support. It's understandable that Adam would be drawn to an "outsider" so different from what he has known and it's interesting to read what choices he and those he is closest to make in a crisis. All in all, a satisfying book.

...13 more reader reviews

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Francesca Segal was born in London and studied at Oxford and Harvard University before becoming a journalist and critic. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Guardian, and The Observer, among other publications. For three years she wrote the Debut Fiction column in The Observer and was, until recently, a features writer at Tatler. She lives in London. Visit her online at www.francescasegal.com.

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