The Innocents opens with the engagement of Adam to long-term girlfriend Rachel. They both live in the Hampstead Garden suburb of London, home to an insular Jewish community in which everyone knows each other, family is paramount and life follows a pre-destined route. Adam is finally ready to settle down until the arrival of Rachel's tearaway cousin, Ellie, prompts him to question how sheltered his life has been. Although Ellie has had her scrapes (like being kicked out of university for starring in a risque film), her worldliness makes Adam realise how little of life he has seen or experienced. Is he prepared to settle for someone as insular as him, with no desire to broaden her horizons?
I've seen some mixed reviews of The Innocents, but I simply loved everything about this book. I loved the dry, slightly sarcastic tone, the way the characters kept you guessing but most of all I loved how it addressed something that we all experience at some point in our lives - when do you decide to be happy with your lot, and when is it right to break away and experience the world? Adam's struggle between the everyday contentedness he knows he can experience with Rachel and the more exciting but risky life that Ellie offers is surely something that we've all been through, even if not related to our romantic lives. It goes right down to the small level, for example, when do we decide to leave a job we are comfortable in, in order to take a chance on something potentially better but also potentially worse?
All three of the central characters were interesting, although Ellie was perhaps the least interesting of the bunch. Her rebellion against her family's lifestyle mixed with her yearning for their acceptance made her motivation easy to understand. At first I thought Rachel was easy to read too, someone completely sheltered and naive, but she surprised me at certain points in the book. Her innocence, her lifestyle, is a deliberate choice and it's something that she is prepared to defend. Even though Adam arguably acted wrongly throughout the novel, I felt sorry for him at the end. Everyday contentedness comes at a cost, after all. I liked how the morality of the book was open to interpretation all the way through, and the ambiguity of the actions of the main characters.
I've not read Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence, so I can't comment on how it relates to the original. All I can say that reading Age of Innocence isn't essential to understanding and appreciating The Innocents. I read a digital review copy of this book, but I'll definitely be purchasing a physical copy to add to my own collection.
You will enjoy The Innocents if:
- You like satire or books that play on the unwritten rules of society.
- You've ever questioned the decisions you made in your early twenties.
- You're interested in Judaism or the social rules of Jewish communites.
- You don't mind moral ambiguities and complex characters.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: 2012
Score: 5 out of 5