The Innocents by Francesca Segal
Title: The Innocents
Author: Francesca Segal
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Genre: General Fiction
How I Read It: ARC received from the publisher – The views expressed in my review are mine alone and I have received no compensation for these opinions.
Synopsis: Newly engaged and unthinkingly self-satisfied, twenty-eight-year-old Adam Newman is the price 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?
*Synopsis taken from the back of the book
My Review: This novel surprised me in the most pleasant sort of way, I’d heard mixed things about it and was a little worried I would be bored by it, and I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case. I’ve seen quite a few reviews complaining that nothing happens in this book, and it’s a fair criticism, but this isn’t a book about a bunch of things happening. The whole point is to tell a story of what happens when you’re born in a place and pretty much stay there your whole life – and what could happen if someone realized there was more outside that community.
Adam seems happy with the idea that he’s really only ever dated Rachel, hasn’t known a real relationship outside of her, and seems like he’s going to be content with that life until Ellie comes around. I liked Adam quite a bit, and would like to hope that he would have realized there could be more to life even had Ellie not come along. However, Adam’s awakening and actions after that are frustrating and somewhat disappointing to me. He’s a man who knows he could have more, but doesn’t ever seem to get the courage to take any action. This is something I find frustrating both with characters in books, as well as in real life, so it was difficult for me to continue reading this inaction.
That frustration aside, I still enjoyed Adam and the book as a whole, though I had a difficult time understanding what was so appealing about Rachel. She was a character I could never really get behind, didn’t feel much connection to, and she felt flat to me. Granted, the story isn’t really about her, but her behavior made me more and more irritated as time went on, and made Ellie seem all the more appealing. It made a lot of sense that Adam would struggle with affections for both of them – the history with Rachel coupled with the mysterious newness and freedom that Ellie represented.
I also didn’t know much about the Jewish community in London before this, so it was an interesting look into how closely knit their lives really are. The families are both endearing and excessively annoying at the same time. I don’t think I could handle that much hovering all the time, but perhaps I’m more like Ellie than any other character in the book. The idea of everyone knowing everything that is going on in my life makes my skin crawl, which made it difficult just to read about it and feel like you’re going through it by being that engrossed in the novel.
I found the average, somewhat mundane aspects of this novel to be comforting, simply because it’s nice to see a community come together and face whatever life throws at them. While I hoped for different things for Adam, I can also understand his course of action and I did love to see his personal drama unfold. It was also a fast and interesting read, something I would love to take to a park or out on the patio, so I say pick it up!
Read this book if: Although I haven’t read The Age Of Innocence, I like the way this story was translated to a more modern time, and I think most readers will too.
My Rating: 3.5/5 – Two thumbs up, fine holiday fun!