The Innocents

( 54 )

Overview

*** Winner of the 2012 Costa First Novel Award ***

*** Winner of the 2013 Harold U. Ribalow Prize, the 2013 Sam Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the 2012 Costa First Novel Award, and the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction ***

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.

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Overview

*** Winner of the 2012 Costa First Novel Award ***

*** Winner of the 2013 Harold U. Ribalow Prize, the 2013 Sam Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the 2012 Costa First Novel Award, and the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction ***

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?

Winner of the 2013 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
Winner of the 2012 Costa Book Award for First Novel
Winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Segal’s debut novel is an example of how one can be influenced by great writers who’ve come before yet not be trapped by them. Nice, reliable Adam is engaged to Rachel, the perfect Jewish girl, in a closely knit North West London Jewish community. But Rachel’s free-spirited cousin Ellie, back from a scandalous time in the U.S., makes him feel not so nice and not so reliable. He falls for Ellie, but the machinations of both his fiancée and his community create obstacles to his desires. Inspired by The Age of Innocence, Segal’s book is warmer, funnier, and paints a more dynamic and human portrait of a functional community that is a wonderful juxtaposition to Wharton’s cold social strata in Gilded Age New York. Adam is just as much of a coward as Newland Archer, more in love with the idea of rebellion than actually capable of committing the act. Rachel echoes May Welland’s passive aggressiveness, yet goes after what she wants with more courage when faced with tough choices. Ellie is far more self-aware and less of a victim than Ellen Olenska, which makes her more interesting and sympathetic. The real hero of the book is Lawrence, Adam’s father-in-law, a man who deeply loves his family, appreciates the community, utilizes his “quiet faith,” and is profoundly grateful for his life. The book is full of delightful moments, such as Lawrence’s comment, “Any Jewish holiday can be described the same way. They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat.” Segal took the theme of a well-known novel and made it her own. Lively and entertaining. Agent: Melanie Jackson, the Melanie Jackson Agency. (June 5)
Lauren Groff
"It is impossible to resist this novel's wit, grace, and charm."
People
"With understated wit, empathy and a cinematic eye of detail, Segal brings alive a host of characters so robust that you can easily imagine them onscreen... A winning debut novel."
Esther Freud
"A moving, funny, richly drawn story of a young man's attempts to find out who he wants to be when there are so many others who know best. Full of real pleasures and unexpected wisdom this book sweeps you along."
Andre Aciman
"The Innocents is written with wisdom and deliciously subtle wit, in the tradition of Jane Austen and Nancy Mitford. Francesca Segal has a remarkable ability to bring characters vividly to life who are at once warm, funny, complex, and utterly recognizable. This is a wonderfully readable novel: elegant, accomplished and romantic."
Library Journal
Are communities cocoons sheltering us from the rigors of the world, or are they wet blankets stifling creativity and experimentation? That's the quandary facing Adam Newman, a product of the close-knit Jewish community centered around Temple Fortune, London NW11, an enclave that takes care of its own from cradle to grave…and beyond. For 12 years, he has been engaged to Rachel Gilbert and has been a member of her father's legal firm. When cousin Ellie Schneider appears on the scene, trailing clouds of marijuana and rumors of online pornography, Adam is torn between what seems like an unending succession of lovingly detailed family meals (guaranteed to make you reach for the nearest poppy seed coffee cake) and what Ellie might have to offer. If the story sounds familiar, that's because it is. In the year that marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edith Wharton, this imitation of The Age of Innocence is the sincerest form of flattery. The unexpressed moral might be plus ça change. VERDICT 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.—Bob Lunn, formerly with Kansas City P.L., MO
Kirkus Reviews
Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence gets a reboot in this novel set in a present-day London Jewish enclave. The plot structures of Wharton's 1920 classic and this novel are extremely similar: Adam, an ambitious young man, is set to marry Rachel, a stunning woman from a well-to-do family (Adam works in Rachel's father's law firm). Adam and Rachel have been a couple since they were teens, but their just-so existence is upended with the arrival of Rachel's cousin Ellie from New York. Ellie has scandalized many in her family with her acting and modeling career, which included nude scenes in an art film, while rumors of her consorting with married men abound. But Adam is drawn to her in spite of all this, and in part because of it--her free-spirited, straight-talking attitude hits him like a thunderbolt, making him aware of just how sheltered his life has been. Segal isn't the ornate stylist Wharton is, but she writes elegantly and thoughtfully about Adam's growing sense of entrapment, and she excels at showing how a family's admirable supportiveness can suddenly feel like smothering. (She can write with humor, too; in one scene Adam's family reads names from the Jewish newspaper's births-deaths-weddings announcements and guesses if they were "hatched," "dispatched" or "matched.") Segal's effort to work a Madoff-ian financial scandal into the closing chapters feels like an ungainly attempt to add some drama, and Ellie and Adam's flirtatious bantering isn't always convincing. But overall this is a well-tuned portrait of a couple whose connection proves to be much more tenuous than expected, and of religious rituals that prove more meaningful than they seem. 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.
Entertainment Weekly
"A crafty homage [Segal] writes with engaging warmth."
The London Times
"[A] delightful first novel... wise, witty and observant."
The Observer (UK)
"Segal writes with an understated elegance."
André Aciman
"The Innocents is written with wisdom and deliciously subtle wit... This is a wonderfully readable novel: elegant, accomplished, and romantic."
People (***1/2 stars)
"[A] charming modern take on Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. With understated wit, empathy and a cinematic eye of detail, Segal brings alive a host of characters so robust that you can easily imagine them onscreen .A winning debut novel."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401341817
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 6/5/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 337,237
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Francesca Segal was born in London in 1980. The daughter of a writer and an editor, she studied at Oxford and Harvard University before becoming a journalist and critic. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Guardian, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, FT Magazine, and The JC, amongst others. For three years she wrote the Debut Fiction Column in The Observer and has been a features writer at Tatler. She divides her time between London and New York.
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Interviews & Essays

Writing the THE INNOCENTS
An Essay from the Author

To recast one of the most beloved American classics is a tall order, and I would never have set out to do something so presumptuous. But once the idea had taken up residence in my mind it became impossible to dislodge. I could see the book so clearly that I could no longer imagine writing anything else.

The catalyst for The Innocents was not an urge simply to re-tell a story — it was the moment I realized that the scaffolding of The Age of Innocence provided the perfect foundation for exploring questions of my own. Some of these questions resonated with the issues that Wharton herself was examining, but others were solely my own preoccupations.

Instead of a facsimile, what began to take shape was a live, contemporary story with a classic novel woven into its foundations. I re-read The Age of Innocence closely and with care. I then set it aside, with enormous (and sometimes straining) willpower, and didn't reopen its pages until my novel was finished. We all feel pressure to live up to the trailblazers and high achievers in the generations before ours — I didn't want my own characters to feel constrained or intimidated by the characters who had inspired them. My central figures — Adam, Rachel and Ellie — needed breathing space to become their own three-dimensional, twenty-first century people. They had different needs and motivations.

My central message also diverges a little from Wharton's, but what I recognized, powerfully, was the social climate of her novel. It had a complex and subtle code whose principles could have placed it anywhere — any small town, any religious community, anywhere that people live their lives closely interwoven. In my novel Adam Newman is newly engaged to Rachel, his girlfriend of 13 years. Their families and lives are entirely intertwined — Adam works for Rachel's father Lawrence, and has been going to the football with him since he was a teenager. And everything is fine; safe and settled, until Rachel's cousin Ellie moves home from New York. Ellie is the antithesis of Rachel — much younger, fiercely independent, promiscuous and vulnerable; and Adam, who is a little self-satisfied at the beginning, is quite disapproving. But he begins to see that she also offers him an escape from all the loving interference and cozy monotony of North West London. Their attraction for one another was the perfect vehicle to explore the choices and dilemmas that face many people as they come of age.

I wanted to explore two central ideas. How do we each distinguish our own path from family pressures and expectations? How can you know the difference between what you want, and what's been wanted for you your whole life? The second was a related, and perhaps equally unanswerable question. What makes a good marriage? Is it passion, or friendship? Is a person alone enough, or does one consider the extended network of others that they offer, the life of which they are part? Romantic lore suggests that one chooses a life partner as an individual, in a vacuum — that one person alone is the source of all happiness, regardless of context or circumstance. At the other end of the spectrum is the argument for absolute pragmatism — arranged marriages, marriages of convenience. But between those two is a vast and complex landscape. One doesn't, in reality, live in a vacuum, and everyone brings a constellation of factors into a marriage - their family, their culture, their interests, their financial circumstances, their ambitions, their personal history. It seems disingenuous to suggest that none of those things contributes in the slightest to one's overall compatibility and happiness. The two women in my novel, Ellie and Rachel, are not simply very different human beings, but they offer Adam entirely different lives. He has, therefore, an impossible choice to make.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 54 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(18)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(11)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2012

    Disappointing

    Full disclosure, I have never been the biggest fan of Edith Wharton, but I was excited to hear about this modern rendetition of "The Age of Innocence." I had heard good things, and was excited to give this a try. However, I found the book to be overhyped and underwhelming. I really had a hard time accepting our "hero," as I found him to be whiny, obnoxious, and indecisive. I never enjoyed Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther," as I always wanted Werther to move on and accept his fate and find a nice girl to settle down with. However, I would gladly read "Werther" everyday, because I appreciate his devotion and decisiveness. Compared to Adam in "The Innocents," Werther is a role model. I wish Adam would have followed Werther's lead and ended things for himself, I would have been put out of my misery much sooner.

    I have no problems with the anti-hero or the Byronic hero (in fact Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" is one of my favorite literary characters of all time), but there are few people to root for in this story - even accepting the skewed kleidescope of an anti-romance. Adam, as I mentioned, is a putz...I would have paid for him to meet his Maker. Rachel, poor dippy thing, I never had an affinity for. She probably annoyed me more than Adam, especially because her entire self worth seemed contingent on having a man. Yes, I know that fits with Wharton's time, but as this is a modern re-telling I would have preferred some more feminism.

    The only characters I seemed to like were the minor characters of Ellie, Ziva, and Lawrence. But no one felt like a fleshed out character. In Fydor Doestoyevsky's masterpiece "The Brothers Karamazov" no character felt extraneous. Father Zosima had life and depth. Grushenka was more than a stereotpical prostitute; she had her own thoughts and her love for Mitya was truer than the so-called chaste Lisa's, and Smerdyokov transcended the caricature of villany to be a beautiful, complex, philosophical character at the heart of the novel. In "The Innocents" everyone is cardboard, knocked over with the slightest breeze, and unable to bear up to analytical interpretation.

    In the end, not only do the characters resemble stereotypes,there is nothing at their hearts: They are hollow and wooden, souless.

    I wanted to enjoy this novel, but might have been better taking a pass.

    22 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 22, 2012

    I haven't read the book but I'd like to know how one can call 10

    I haven't read the book but I'd like to know how one can call 100 pages
    a book. It's a short story and shouldn't be called a book.

    10 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Discriminating readers only. Along with the gorgeous cover shot

    Discriminating readers only. Along with the gorgeous cover shot this book is beautifully written; Segal inserts uncommon words which in my opinion only make the reader wiser. I.E. uxorious-page 161. Her writing makes astute readers have only one reaction; grateful astonishment. While her writing lineage is impressive; her father is the late Erich Segal (Love Story) she appears to be a talented writer well ahead of her time. If you're looking for wooden, stale characters you won't find them here. This is a story that simmers slowly and reveals the complexity of the human spirit. The main character is male and Jewish. This is easily one of the best books I've read
    this year. Exquisite!!! Loved it.

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2012

    ok read

    I'm but sure why this book is part of the book club but I didn't find it very well written. The author spends a lot of space on detailing things that don't seem very important.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2012

    I agree with some of the others. This book did not live up to th

    I agree with some of the others. This book did not live up to the hype
    at all for me. I felt it to be a story told too many times before. The
    details were a bit boring at times and I felt like screaming at the male
    character for being such a flipping idiot. This was forgettable and I'll
    likely not read another book of hers.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2012

    Drawn in

    I loved this book. I was drawn in by the realistic depiction of the characters and their life style. The writer's development & depth of the thoughts of the main character was very well written. I became sympathetic to the issues he was wrestling with. I especially loved the actions of Ellie-----spot on. Great read! The book even helped me to clarify things in my own life too.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 16, 2012

    Loved this book - couldn't put it down. I finished it in two day

    Loved this book - couldn't put it down. I finished it in two days. She gets it right about the community and all the relationships feel so real. Great ending!

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2012

    Re: My name is maliyah

    Why dont you read the book review?r

    3 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2012

    This book was sensational. I came to care deeply about the main

    This book was sensational. I came to care deeply about the main character, Adam, and felt invested in the choices he made. The portrait of the Jewish people's love for family and community was eye-opening and envy-inspiring.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2012

    The book was just ok for me. I enjoyed parts of it, particularly

    The book was just ok for me. I enjoyed parts of it, particularly the descriptions of the tight knit Jewish community, but overall, I found the story to be pretty trite.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2012

    Look good

    1 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2012

    Loved it - and unexpectedly funny

    I really enjoyed this book. The characters dilemmas really stayed with me. I keep thinking about it and wondering whether Adam did the right thing. Perfect summer reading. I am going to give it to my book club for fall.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014

    Fun

    A graet read and very wrll written

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  • Posted May 17, 2013

    Recommend

    Very interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2013

    Loved

    This wad a great read

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  • Posted March 6, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This is a beautiful book about family, dreams, desire, great sad

    This is a beautiful book about family, dreams, desire, great sadness & innocence lost, sublime...
    Adam & Rachel come from a close knit London Jewish society & have known each other since kindergarten. they always knew they would be together. Recently engaged they navigate their way through family, friends and the life they know they want, or do they? Rachel has always known just what she expects from life and will tolerate nothing else. When Ellie, Rachel's exotic beautiful cousin comes to visit from New York City, everything Adam thought he knew he wanted starts to skew slightly...
    I found this book very sad. The path we choose in life. What is happiness? is it freedom, children, love...

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    Excellent description of the British Jewish conservadox community and a good story

    I enjoyed the book. I particularly enjoyed the way the community would stick to its values, without ever rejecting the people tainted with scandal, deviation, or sin. The main characters are well drawn. I particularly loved Ziva.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2012

    Anonymous

    I could not put this book down until I finished it. I absolutely loved it. The characters were real and I could swear they are people I actually know with their names changed! I thought the story was gripping, well-written. and in a way, sad. The main character, Adam, was a stereotypical example of a young man following a particular path because it is what is expected of him and he is too afraid to do anything different. His agony is palpable throughout the book. As much as I enjoyed the book, there were a couple of things in the book that puzzled me. One, the fact that the 90 year old grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, was so internet savvy did not seem realistic to me. And second, the ritual circumcision, or "Bris" for 8 day old baby boys is perhaps the most sacred and most important of all Jewish laws. It is not just a tradition or ritual, it is a law of G-d of the highest order for all Jews. Even Jews who are not observant of the faith in any other way are deeply committed to the bris performed by a mohel with the proper prayers and blessings to envelope their sons into the covenant of Judaism. I was very confused at the end of the book when the parents of the baby boy did not hold this ceremony sacred. ( Trying not to spoil the ending here!)

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2012

    couldn't stop reading

    This was a very interesting read. I could not put the book down. it had a very different ending than I thought it would have. It was quite suprising.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2012

    Not bad, a quick read.

    I enjoyed it but wasn't fascinated or riveted. I had trouble understanding the main character's attraction to the cousin, though I did understand his frustration with his dependent wife.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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