The Innocents

The Innocents

3.6 57
by Francesca Segal
     
 

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*** 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

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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?

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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."
From the Publisher
"An emotionally and intellectually astute debut."—Kirkus"

[A] delightful first novel... wise, witty and observant."—The London Times"

Segal writes with an understated elegance."—The Observer (UK)"

[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."—People (***1/2 stars)"

A crafty homage [Segal] writes with engaging warmth."—Entertainment Weekly, Grade: B+"

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 (Starred Review)"

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."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

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:
Hachette Books
Publication date:
06/05/2012
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.05(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Margaret Leroy
I was captivated by this alluring novel. . . . Segal writes with dazzling psychological precision, conjuring up characters who are complex, engaging, and utterly real. (Margaret Leroy, author of The Soldier's Wife)
Lauren Groff
Francesca Segal's lustrous debut may have begun as a seed shaken from Edith Wharton's masterpiece The Age of Innocence, but only a few pages will show how completely Segal has made The Innocents her own. The setting—a vibrant if enclosed London Jewish community—is beautifully counterbalanced by Segal's wry and compassionate voice. (Lauren Groff, bestselling author of The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia)
Esther Freud
A moving, funny, richly drawn story. . . . Full of real pleasures and unexpected wisdom, this book sweeps you along. (Esther Freud, author of Love Falls and Lucky Break)
Andre Aciman
The Innocents is written with wisdom and deliciously subtle wit, in the tradition of Jane Austen and Nancy Mitford. . . . This is a wonderfully readable novel: elegant, accomplished, and romantic. (André Aciman, author of the award-winning Out of Egypt, Call Me by Your Name, and Alibis)
Stephen McCauley
Writing with warmth, humor, and control, Segal brings to life an impressively large cast of characters, and makes The Innocents a generous, memorable first novel that I found hard to put down. (Stephen McCauley, author of The Object of My Affection and Insignificant Others)

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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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