The Innocents

The Innocents

by Francesca Segal


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

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?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781401341893
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 05/14/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 697,945
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About 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.

What People are Saying About This

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)


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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