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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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Francesca Segal has borrowed the storyline of Edith Wharton's prize-winning 'The Age of Innocence' for her debut novel 'The Innocents', updating her story by setting it in the present day in the North London Jewish community. Adam and Rachel are in their late twenties and, after twelve years of going out together, are finally planning their wedding. Adam has been Rachel's only serious boyfriend and her only lover; Adam has had one other brief sexual relationship. Both Adam and Rachel are looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together and they each feel fortunate to have found each other. Rachel appears to be the perfect woman for Adam - she is beautiful, feminine and homely; Adam is good-looking, hard-working and he is reliable - at least he is until he meets Rachel's cousin, Ellie. Back in England after several years spent in the States, Ellie, a model and actress who has appeared nude in a dubious art house movie, is six years younger than Rachel, and could not be more different; she is stunning in appearance, wayward, reckless and damaged. At first Adam is shocked by Ellie's past and he does not approve of her present behaviour either, telling himself how lucky he is to have the sweet Rachel as his fiancee. However, as he spends more time in Ellie's company, becoming increasingly attracted to, and excited by her, Adam begins to have doubts about the safe and conventional path he has chosen. But does Adam throw caution to the wind, give in to temptation and risk losing Rachel and the respect of her family, or does he control his urges and behave responsibly as he has always done? Or does he discover that ultimately the choice does not lie with him?

In some respects, with its focus on morals, duty and manners, this novel does seem to be one in a rather traditional vein and it is true that not a huge amount happens plot wise in this story; however, Francesca Segal writes thoughtfully and convincingly about how Adam copes with the dilemmas he has to face and it was very interesting to read about the workings (and machinations) of a closely-knit Jewish family. Like another reviewer writing here, I should say that I was not particularly drawn to the main characters; I thought Rachel was immature and over-indulged and, although I could understand why Adam, having lost his own father, was so drawn to Rachel's family and to her generous, caring father, I did feel that he ought to have been more assertive about his own needs. That said, I found the elderly Ziva (Rachel's grandmother and a holocaust survivor) a very interesting character and I would have liked to have learnt a lot more about her history. So, overall, I found this perceptively observed story an entertaining read and I would certainly be interested in seeing what subject Francesca Segal chooses for her next fictional outing.
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on 10 April 2013
As a North London Jewish girl, I could relate to much of this. Good story. I have also read the Edith Wharton original - this one is much more accessible.
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on 5 September 2014
A great book, absolutely fascinating. It provides a wonderful insight into life in the Jewish community in North London, something I had very little knowledge of before. I honestly felt I knew the characters by the time I got to the end of the book, they were so vividly described. Thoroughly enjoyable and something a bit different.
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Written as a debut book, and awarded the Costa First Novel Award in 2012, The Innocents takes its inspiration from the 1920 book, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, which, in 1921 was the first book to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize by a female writer.

The Innocents is a well written first novel. It is set in London, rather than the original New York, and focuses on Adam and Rachel as they plan their wedding. They have been childhood sweethearts for years, and their own romantic history intertwines both of their families. All appears to be going to plan, the wedding is eagerly anticipated, and then into the mix comes Rachel's cousin Ellie, who has something of a scandalous past, and before long Adam is tempted by Ellie's provocative allure.

Having read the original book by Wharton, it is difficult not to make side by side comparisons between the two books, but overall this homage works well in a contemporary setting. Regardless of the passage of time, this age old story of temptation, recrimination, and retribution has universal appeal. The writing style is fluid and maintains interest; I was particularly engrossed in the Jewish background, which is a community of which I know very little, but whose values are explained in sympathetic detail.

Overall, I found the book interesting and entertaining, its present-day location in London gives it an informality which is refreshing and the age old premise of being thankful for what you already have, certainly rings true.
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on 19 April 2013
This book disappointed me. It started as an interesting portrayal of the Jewish community in North London, centred around one young couple and their families, but to me, provided nothing further. Alex felt too one dimensional, and never really gained my empathy for his torment. The ending was ambiguous which was fine, but I found myself not caring one way or the other as I didn't like any of the characters enough for it to matter.

An ok read to fill some time, but there are enough better books out there that I don't know why you'd bother.
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on 18 November 2013
This was a fascinating study of life in a, (the?) North London Jewish community. I learnt a great deal about an area of society I know nothing about, though I don't live physically far away. However, I didn't really 'get' the title. At least, the central characters were, none of them, what I would call 'innocents' in the usual sense - unless one is equating innocence with being somewhat isolated, excluded even, from other less fortunate parts of society.
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on 27 May 2014
I loved this book.

And although I thought I had the characters all figured out, I was surprised at the end to find that my first opinions of Rachel had been completely reversed. I had written her off fairly quickly as being a little dull and one-dimensional but by the end of the book I had changed my mind to consider her as perhaps the most complex and surprising character in the book.
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on 9 July 2013
I'd heard a lot about this before I read it and assumed I would hate it - so was very pleasantly surprised to find the opposite was true. Having grown up in the area the book centres around was able to identify with the locations and recognise many of the characters and very much enjoyed it. It seems to be a bit of a Marmite book - but I definitely fall into the camp that would highly recommend.
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on 8 April 2014
I liked this novel very much. It is a compelling portrait of the Jewish community in north west London at a time when some of its dearest traditions are under threat but, in the case of the families in the forefront of the story, win through. Adam is a perfectly charming, human but fundamentally decent and moral character whose flaw is that he can be manipulated by people and events but ends up as a promising future patriarch. Rachel, a maddening, conventional, complacent, spoiled young woman who is faced with the loss of everything but comes through her ordeals older, stronger and wiser. Ziva as the grandmother is one of the most attractive portraits of an elderly eccentric that I have read. Ellie is believable as the rebel who doesn't lose her fundamental sense of what is fitting. For the reader who is not a member of the community the picture the book provides is enlightening and in many ways comforting. what fund it would be, for example, to celebrate Purim by dressing up and eating three cornered pastries in memory of Queen Esther and the wicked Haman. Definitely recommended!
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on 25 June 2013
At the beginning of the novel 28-year-old Adam Newman is at the engagement party with his sweetheart from high school times Rachel Gilbert notices among guests Ellie Schneider, 22-year-old Rachel's cousin. Adam works at firm owned by the father of his future wife Lawrence Gilbert. Adam is caring, honest, responsible, bright, smart, pride of the Jewish community of North London. His fiancee Rachel is a perfact match: she's a nice, bright, loyal, modest, and can offer comfort to Adam and well-being in the house for many years. Adam and Rachel started dating in high school, and so have been dating almost 12 years, following all the Jewish rituals, trying to do everything as it should be. Adam's and Rachel's families has long been intertwined, merged into one, but the formal relationship is not settled yet. Now the lovers are finally engaged, and the wedding is planned in 8 months, in August, to allow preparing within all the rules.

This family drama at first glance is no different from hundreds of other family dramas, which already flooded the market. Jewish theme seems to be to aggravate the situation, but The Innocents is not another "book about the Jews," which were always in abundance. Action of the book actually takes place in the Jewish community, and all the heroes of the book are Jews, even Jew Jews. But instead of the Jews here could be devout Russians, or Mexicans, or rural Vietnamese, or any other representatives of the community, which holds the old rites and traditions. Judaism is not a central theme, it is only the reception here. Jewish community of North London is a collective image of the old world, of the past, of family roots. Endless relatives, respect elders, celebrating Jewish holidays are only the elements of the world in which the main character has grown and which continues to live in. The novel in the first place is about the battle between the new and the old feelings, the traditions with emotions, love with fidelity. Respected and respectable, Adam slides on his life path, not even imagining that beyond his world there is something different, strange, new, mysterious.

The hero is trapped: he is too good to erase all at once and give up on what he worked for so many years, but on the other hand, he is captured by the senses, and not always can fight them.

Francesca Segal, portraiting in her novel Jewish relatives, with kisses, bathing in the Jordan, certain epithets, unintentionally created a whole world full not with nasty characters, but with those whom you would not want to spend time with. Adam is like an elf among trolls and goblins, he wants to be different, wants to escape. And in spite of his sins, he has a lot more compassion and respect than others.

Ellie, though representative of the new world, did not forget her roots, making a difficult choice in the final.

Segal writes clever prose, convincing in detail, you will not even notice how time flies. This novel is not a romantic bubble gum, which we saw enough. This book is about true feelings.
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