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on 7 June 2013
Francesca Segal's The Innocents received a great deal of critical acclaim. Not only did it win the 2012 Costa First Novel award, it also won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in Fiction and made the shortlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction. But does it live up to the hype?

Loosely based on Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, Francesca Segal's debut novel follows childhood sweethearts Adam and Rachel. Their lives are threaded together in every way - from their intricate family relationships to the fact that Adam is a trusted employee of a business run by Rachel's father - so their engagement comes as little surprise to anyone in their immediate circle. But while Rachel is busy planning the perfect big day, Adam is having a crisis of confidence.

Full of self-doubt, Adam is torn between Rachel, as well as the inherent expectations that lie on him as a member of a tight-knit Jewish community, and her alluring, vibrant and vulnerable younger cousin Ellie. The antithesis to Rachel, Ellie is the family black sheep with a devil-may-care attitude to life. For Adam, already questioning his mapped out future as the perfect Jewish husband, her appearance is the catalyst that pushes him over the edge.

Some people have criticised this book for its in-depth descriptions of Jewish culture and community, but this was actually the aspect of the book that I most enjoyed. It's the most detailed discussion of Jewish society that I've ever read, and I found it really interesting.

However, I didn't feel that the central figures were in any way likeable. This was probably because we see everyone else from Adam's perspective, and for me, Adam is nothing but self-centred and weak. As a result, we see Rachel alternatively as either a homely and loving safe haven or a clingy and vapid black hole sucking him into a life that he's not sure he wants.

I'm not even really sure who can really be considered as `innocent'. Adam is lacking in any life experience, Rachel is clueless to all of her fiancé's misgivings and Ellie has her own childhood traumas leaving us questioning whether she's an instigator of trouble or a victim of her own troubled past. This may have been the very point that the author was trying to convey, that we are in fact all innocent in our own ways. But while the book read really well and I did enjoy it, I just couldn't relate to any of the characters.

Essentially, it all boils down to one simple question. How do we know if the grass is really greener on the other side, and is what we have ever good enough?
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on 4 September 2013
I read this book overnight, and closed it dazzled and moved by Segal's elegant prose, her humour and insight, and the blend of cool observation and warm humanity in her writing. It's a brave choice to re-imagine a classic novel, and Segal pays homage to Wharton whilst making the tone and characters entirely her own. She invites us into a vivid, fully realised world and manages to conjure its specifics and its universality. I found it funny, passionate and touching, and have passed it on to many friends. It's a book I'll read again, full of subtle treasures.
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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 23 February 2013
If you torment yourself with whether, as a good Jew, you occasionally want to break out of the mould, this is the book for you. Otherwise, it pretty tedious and the characters are hard to take, even for non practising Jews.
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on 23 March 2014
l thought this book was a lot to do about nothing.............not much of a story............the jewish information was quite interesting
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on 3 September 2013
The Innocents is a lovely book - Segal has a wonderful way with words. The story is a modern-day telling of The Age of Innocence - I have to admit I read the original so long ago that I can't make an accurate comparison though I was grateful for the interval as it meant I could not predict the ending with certainty. I recently met a very serious woman who was reading The Innocents in parallel with The Age of Innocents chapter for chapter and she said, 'It is incredible what Segal has done'. I have no intention of carrying out this exercise but it was very interesting to hear from someone who had. For me, as a Jew living in North London, but not really from the kind of community described, I enjoyed the portrayal of local colour and familiar places and characters. The plot was compelling and I could not help but read it very quickly but the thing I loved most was the beautiful use of language.
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on 11 July 2013
I want to start off by saying what an amazing debut novel this is, the author is accomplished in bringing together both the storyline and the characters, who I was rooting for all through the novel from the very first chapter. The main premise of the novel is about a Jewish community in the heart of London and the trials and tribulations that are faced, particularly by two characters, Adam and Rachel.

I loved both Adam and Rachel and felt that the author fairly provided a good outline of each of them - Rachel, the spoilt only daughter of parents who both love and protect her, even now that she is grown-up, and that of Adam, whose father died when he was young. Adam and Rachel at the beginning of the book have recently become engaged after being together for thirteen years, they met on an Israel tour, but then Rachel's cousin comes back into the picture and the story changes to reflect this, I do not want to give too much away.

I also loved all the other characters that Francesca Segal brought into the novel, I loved Ziva, who is a survivor of the Holocaust, and is the grandmother to both Rachel and Ellie, she is extremely well-drawn, each of the characters I could see in my mind and already had an idea of what they could be like in real life, I love it when a book manages to do that.

The Jewish community is a startlingly good idea as it allows for all the action to take place over a period of time but also have supporting characters who are able to interject, and sometimes, take over certain pieces of dialogue, particularly when it comes to the planning of the wedding, Adam would like something small and intimate, whereas Rachel and her mother would like a huge wedding, with lots of guests, a big wedding dress, and lots of expense.

I thought that some of the issues remain important today - when doubt is hanging over you, you need to be able to rely on your family, and Rachel manages to do this, and in effect freeze out the person who is causing the trouble. I loved the ending, but felt that it might have been a bit picture perfect (yes I realize that this is a novel, but I felt that the endings were tied up a bit too easily).

I look forward to reading more books by this author.
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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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on 22 April 2013
I saw this book in its paperback form in Waterstone's, the cover intrigued me so after reading the back I made a mental note of the title and looked for it on my Kindle. I'd read the reviews and seen that previous readers had criticised its in depth explanations of North London Jewish society, however, this was very appealing to me having grown up in a mixed marriage but sadly outside of a Jewish community.

The character of Rachel could have been expanded a little more but I think this goes against the grain of Adam, the protagonist. Having lost his father as a young child, I felt that emotionally he was at a loss and the author conveyed this well in Adam's inability to see his fiancee and later wife as her own person and therefore a fully rounded individual.
His attraction to Ellie is almost like a hiatus in his life, Adam has always been the Nice Jewish Boy who looked after his mother and sister, did everything that was expected of him, met the Nice Jewish Girl, went to university and law school, joined the law firm of his future father-in-law and is making his inevitable journey towards the chupah. Then Ellie, Rachel's cousin returns to London from New York and after his initial disapproval of her, Adam begins to see a kindred spirit in Ellie which turns into infatuation.

I loved the style of writing, Francesca Segal portrayed a very warm, supportive community in 'The Innocents' which I hope she returns to in future. I could imagine the places, people and homes she described and I could almost smell the latkes.....

I would recommend this book to my Book Group, along with a small glossary of Yiddish words and Jewish terminology. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
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on 10 February 2014
Adam has been going out with Rachel since they met on a trip to Israel as teenagers. Adam is a lawyer who works for the firm run by Rachel's father and at the start of the book they are engaged. Adam's life is following a predictable pattern for those in the North London Jewish Community - marry a nice jewish girl, settle down and raise the next generation of nice jewish boys and girls. Then Rachel's cousin Ellie appears on the scene. Fleeing scandal in New York, her affair with a married man, appearance in an art house film and subsequent removal from her postgraduate course at Columbia, Ellie moves to Europe to continue her modelling career. Adam falls hard for Ellie and this throws into question everything he has worked for and everything expected of him.

As a study of the mores of a particular slice of society this book is good but as a novel it fails to excite. Adam is a one-dimensional character and the choices he makes are obvious, even the ending is half-baked somewhat.
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