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on 12 April 2013
This book bears an exceptionally close resemblance to the, Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.
The plot, characters and names are almost the same, the only difference is the historical date and the location. This is the reason that I give this book such a low rating, I was so surprised at the obvious similarity and therefore I knew what was going to happen.
Has anyone else picked up on this?
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on 6 March 2013
This was read with a bookclub and our collective, unanimous opinion was as follows: It has potential to be an interesting story, by contrasting a close-knit Jewish community with the non-traditional, non-conformist New Yorker Ellie. Although this book won the Costa First Novel Award I fail to see why. The plot lacked climax and confrontation after a long winded and drawn out internal dilema and there is no poignant experiences of redemption for any of the characters' mistakes. The ending seemed quite unrealistic. The description of settings, characters, relationships and emotions are no more than words on a page, bland and boring, at the end of the book I still failed to be able to picture the characters - or like them! I liked getting to learn about the Jewish festivals and culture but a glossary for the Jewish terms would have been really helpful. Similarly, with so many characters, a list at the front for quick reference of who is who would also have been useful. Still wondering who the running girl on the front cover is supposed to be? It doesn't seem to cohere to any place or person in the text.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 April 2013
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 3 January 2013
The Innocents has just won the Costa First Novel Award - a decision which completely baffles me.

It is poorly written,with heavy pastiche characters, of which there are far too many and with whom there is no sympathy. Unless you call the fact that a nice Jewish boy about to marry a nice Jewish girl falls for her far more exciting cousin but still marries the first girl a plot, there is none. So many writers have made this minimal plotline a far more interesting story to read. Francesca Segal fails dismally. The book is apparently an ode to Edith Wharton - if so, the poor woman must be rolling over in her grave.

It is no more than a chicklit novel so please don't expect it to be anything more and you may enjoy reading what North West London Jews are like. Even Naomi Alderman did it slightly better (she also won an award). There is far more to North West London Jewish people than portrayed in these books. At least I truly hope there is.
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on 14 May 2013
A novel of manners set in the Jewish community of north west London. Adam, a lawyer, is going to marry Rachel, his childhood sweetheart. He begins to feel that his life is now too predictably laid out for him and imagines something different. Along comes Ellie, Rachel's younger cousin. It is not exactly an original plot. The book focuses on the tight-knit nature of a community bound by family, tradition and, if not faith, religious ritual. It is simultaneously claustrophobic and comforting.
There is an awful lot here about Jewish food and meals - too sweet for me. Rachel's character has a little substance, but she is deep by comparison with Adam. Where the author got the idea for Ellie I don't know - a supermodel who is an intellectual, devouring Turgenev whilst having make-up applied, and whose conversation varies from sharp sardonic wit to deep philosophical pondering. Even should such a creature exist it is scarcely probable that she would hanker for an overweight 30-something with an Oedipus complex. Unbelievable all round.
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on 3 November 2013
Beware books that have won literary prizes. This novel comes laden with plaudits but I'm afraid I found it achingly dull and tedious. Once I start a book I have to finish it, but this was such hard work that it took me almost three weeks to plough through. None of the main characters had any redeeming features - Adam the would-be adulterer was self-absorbed and selfish, Rachel his new wife was childlike and irritating, whilst it was hard to see what attracted Adam to Ellie, the object of his fantasies. The insight into Jewish family life and traditions was mildly interesting but took up so much of the book, it was more like a manual on how to be Jewish and the actual plot came second place. Such a relief to have finally finished it, now I can move on to something really gripping...
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on 22 August 2013
Am half way through it and find it really bitty and confusing. Would have given up reading it by now if I wasn`t reading it for bookclub. Perhaps it will get better!!!
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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 9 September 2013
I read this book when it was newly published but I must admit that the characters and plot have stayed with me and I find myself recommending it time and time again to friends particularly those who are about to be or newly married, though older friends and family have also enjoyed the book very much. As many reviewers have noted the language is beautiful and there are moments of delightful humour throughout. There are also wonderful passages of great clarity and wisdom which I find rare in new books. Although it is a modern reinterpretation of the Age of Innocence, it is so good that it feels like a classic in its own right, so I was not surprised when it won the Costa Award and I believe it has won various prestigious awards in the USA as well. More please Ms Segal!!
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on 6 January 2013
Firsty, I have not read the classic, "The Age of Innocence", but it is right there in my book list after I found out that "The Innocents" is loosely based on the Edith Wharton's novel. I have nothing to compare "The Innocents" to, yet it helps to review the book as a completely stand along work of fiction.

Secondly, for a while I thought that the detailed descriptions of Jewish society of North London is absolutely unnecessary, but very soon I took the Jewish community to be a separate, alive and breathing character of the novel (like the city of St. Petersburg was often a separate character in Dostoevsky's fiction).

All of the main characters of "The Innocents" are multi-dimensional and exquisitely done. If firstly you think you can "distinguish" good ones from bad ones, by the middle of the book you realise, that, not unlike in life, there is no all good and no all bad, there are always two sides to each and every coin. This, I feel, takes an exceptional writing skill to create.

The characters are joy to get to know. The plot is greatly paced. The book is well-written. It's enjoyable and interesting, insightful, clever yet light. I am looking forward to reading more of Francesca Segal's fiction.
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