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
I did enjoy this one, it's probably one of the best that ended up on the Women's Prize longlist as far as I'm concerned (so far)...:)ReplyDelete
I like it the best out of the ones I have read (although admittedly, I've not read many). I would have liked to see it short-listed.Delete
And this is why I love book blogging... I love reading an opinion about a book that is the complete opposite to my own. Because I didn't enjoy this book at all! http://booksaremyfavouriteandbest.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/the-innocents-by-francesca-segal/ReplyDelete
It's a shame you didn't enjoy it, different strokes for different folks and all that! Off to check out your review :)Delete
Why does this sound so familiar to me? I'm half thinking that I've read it? Oh my word, I hate when this happens, lol. My memory!ReplyDelete
Check on goodreads, that's what I usually have to do! :)Delete
What a different experience from my own! I'm so glad you liked it and somehow I feel more sane now, knowing, that this book can trigger very controversial emotions among people. I think my main problem with Rachel was not even with her personality but maybe she was a bit to stereotyped by author in that sense of "stay at home and lose majority of brain cells - become Stepword Wife" kind of person. Surely, even if you don't work it's possible to maintain lots of interests and curiosity towards life also outside the range of the next dinner menu :) But yes although overall I didn't get the characters at all the same way you did, I'm glad to see an opinion different from my own.ReplyDelete
It does seem to be a Marmite book - readers tend to love it or hate it! I think Rachel was more complex that the Stepford Wife stereotype and had experienced enough of the world to want to close her door on it, completely.Delete
I never thought that she'd shut herself off deliberately. I remember those parts in the middle where Adam was contemplating and not being very happy that Rachel doesn't want to discover new things with him. But of course, this is Rachel reflected through Adam's eyes, and who knows how reliable that kind of reflection is. I remember Rachel's innocence was stressed several times in the book trough "Adam was the first and only man she'd been with", so I didn't get strong vibe of her having seen life that much. And that's why the ending totally confused me - because I am the kind of person who strongly supports exploring an reaching out, even if it hurts (life often does), but I got the idea that Adam basically just gave in/was forced to. A part of me would have liked Rachel being tossed into alien waters, too, and see how she acts then. I couldn't even clearly understand if in the end Adam was happy, or satisfied, or trying to convince himself that "this is for the best"...Delete
ANYWAY, any book that triggers so many thoughts and opinions is definitely not a bad book and I think with this one I just got too much distracted by personal dislikes towards the characters.
This sounds like a book I would love! Wharton is a favorite, yet I have never read The Age of Innocence. Think I will read it and then follow with this novel. Your cover is SO much more attractive than the US version.ReplyDelete
I've not read anything by Wharton, although I am keen to after reading this book.Delete
I'll have to have a look at this one. I've just had a wonderful orgy of Naomi Ragen's trio of books set in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, so I'm in the mood, as it were! One of these days when I get past my BLOGGING slump - no issue with reading, it's the writing where I'm currently stuck - I'll have some posts up about those three books. Fascinating. Be interesting to read this one for the possible contrasts/similarities.ReplyDelete
I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who didn't like this at all and it was a DNF for me. I have read The Age of Innocence and I think that made a difference to how I felt about it.ReplyDelete
Ok reading this has made me a little more enthusiastic to read it myself. I have it on my shelf but I've read so many not so gushing reviews that I've been put off a bit. Glad to see someone enjoyed it, gives me some hope :)ReplyDelete
This sounds awesome Sam. Since you like it, I am going to put it in the bag for future read.ReplyDelete
I'm really looking forward to this one, even though I've also seen many middling reviews. I'm glad you loved it!ReplyDelete
Hi Sam, Just want to say thank you for introducing me to this book I love it!ReplyDelete