The Innocents

The Innocents

by Francesca Segal
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The Innocents by Francesca Segal

*** 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?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780701186999
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Publication date: 05/28/2012

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

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)


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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The Innocents 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
L.A.Carlson-writer More than 1 year ago
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.
BrittM More than 1 year ago
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.
Oregonian1 More than 1 year ago
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.
shopgirl_07 More than 1 year ago
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.
UllaBG More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
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A graet read and very wrll written
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healthyway More than 1 year ago
Very interesting.
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