The Innocents by Francesca Segal

Holy cow it’s been a while since I posted a book review. Here we go.

From Goodreads:

A smart and slyly funny tale of love, temptation, confusion, and commitment, “The Innocents” is a generous and deeply satisfying look at a close-knit society in which one young man’s pre-wedding panic illuminates the universal conflict between responsibility and passion.

Newly engaged and unthinkingly self-satisfied, twenty-eight-year-old Adam Newman is the prize12190308 catch of Temple Fortune, a small, tight-knit Jewish suburb of London. He has been dating Rachel Gilbert since they were both sixteen and now, to the relief and happiness of the entire Gilbert family, they are finally to marry. To Adam, Rachel embodies the highest values of Temple Fortune; she is innocent, conventional, and entirely secure in her community—a place in which everyone still knows the whereabouts of their nursery school classmates. Marrying Rachel will cement Adam’s role in a warm, inclusive family he loves. 

But as the vast machinery of the wedding gathers momentum, Adam feels the first faint touches of claustrophobia, and when Rachel’s younger cousin Ellie Schneider moves home from New York, she unsettles Adam more than he’d care to admit. Ellie—beautiful, vulnerable, and fiercely independent—offers a liberation that he hadn’t known existed: a freedom from the loving interference and frustrating parochialism of North West London. Adam finds himself questioning everything, suddenly torn between security and exhilaration, tradition and independence. What might he be missing by staying close to home?

First Impressions: THIS IS NOT A YA NOVEL!!! When I bought it, I didn’t think it sounded like YA, but that was the section it was in so I went for it. It was misshelved. Don’t be fooled.  But basically, for the first 200 pages, I loved it. The characters, the story, the conflicts, I was so into it. Then it slowly became more tedious and whine-y and I ended up totally hating the main character. I couldn’t even sympathize with him. I just really hated his guts.

I’m not too wild about this book. I thought it sounded really great, and I liked it at first, but it didn’t hold out for me.

So there’s this guy named Adam and he’s been dating Rachel for a long time (too long) and then he finally decides to propose to her. And in swoops the troubled, beautiful, blonde, model, angsty, worldly, younger cousin who’s known ‘real tragedy and has a real reason to be sad and needs Adam more than anyone else’ (this is in quotes because I am being sarcastic). He believes this even though younger cousin never actually says this to him.

When it comes down to it, the story is totally played out and boring (we’ve seen this plot line a trillion billion times). The characters are predictable and not entertaining and I don’t really like any of them. Except for Rachel’s father, grandmother and Adam’s sister. They are the undisputed stars of the story. Where Adam and company are aggravating and usual, they stand out with their forgiveness, humor and colorful diction. They were my favorite part of the story.

Another part of the story that I really liked was that it takes place in London (!) which I did not know when I bought it. And, as it turns out, the characters live in Northwest London, which is where I live! So I knew where everything was and it was pretty cool. Her descriptions of the city and of its different attitudes in different areas was spot on and really fun to read. Lots of brownie points for that.

Overall, though I really didn’t like the main characters and the story, Segal has such a pretty way of writing. It’s pretty and smart and makes you think about your own inferior writing. Her literary voice was kind of inspiring, because it reminded me of the voices of the classic writers. I felt like the book could have been written back when diction was more elegant and dialogue more complex. So her writing (not the story) was very intriguing to read. Though I didn’t like her story, I would definitely read another book by her, just because she’s a really interesting writer.

P.S. More props to her, she used to write the debut fiction column for The Observer. So that’s pretty freaking cool.

I give it 5 of 10 stars!

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3 thoughts on “The Innocents by Francesca Segal

  1. writingmom2013 says:

    I really liked this novel, but can understand why you were not the biggest fan. In one respect, however, I must defend the novel from your criticism.

    You mentioned that the characters are very predictable, and have been seen multiple times before in literature. Segal did this, however, on purpose. You failed to mention that Segal’s book was written in homage to Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Even when Wharton wrote her novel, however, she was trying to write characters that the reader already feels he or she knows. Part of the point of the novel is that even when Adam, the character whose head we are getting inside the most, tries to act outside of the convention within which he was raised and expected to conform, he’s acting in a rebellious-conventional way. Kind of like a high school, former cheerleader, who decides to “rebel” by wearing a lot of black clothing and eyeliner, but really merely conforms to a different high school clique.

    • Refuting the Intolerably Stupid says:

      Thanks so much for your response to my review! Always love to hear feedback. I’m glad you brought up The Age of Innocence. I’ve never read that book (shameful, I know) and I didn’t know that Segal was writing an homage to it. That definitely gives me some perspective. Thank you for your thoughtful response, I really appreciate it!

  2. writingmom2013 says:

    Definitely! If you didn’t like Segal’s book, you probably won’t be a fan of Wharton’s, either. Her writing definitely isn’t to everyone’s taste. 🙂

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