- I saw this on a list of literary books modeled after classics.
Summary from GoodReads:
Newly engaged and unthinkingly self-satisfied, twenty-eight-year-old Adam Newman is the prize 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?
I’ve read so many good books in the last few weeks, and I like to think it’s because I’m finally improving in my selections. The Innocents by Francesca Segal is another notch in that thought-process belt, because this is one story that packed a punch for me, subtle as it was.
I hadn’t heard of this title until it cropped up on a list of modern day adaptations of novels that should be read. The cover of this one caught my eye, and although I haven’t read Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, the idea of a modern-day story which calls to mind Jane Austen appealed to me. Then, of course, there’s my own Jewish family routes, and my desire to read anything and everything I can about what my grandfather’s life must have been like.
The story centers are Adam and Rachel and Ellie. Adam and Rachel have been a couple for 12 years and they have just become engaged (they started dating as young teenagers – so don’t go tsking at Adam!). One week into their engagement, the wayward cousin Ellie shows up and… things get interesting. While certain things about The Innocents are highly predictable, what I found I appreciated most was the change in lens on how Adam viewed those around him. It was the gradual growth and decline of relationships that makes this book shine, and as much as I loved certain characters at the beginning I, like Adam, found myself disenchanted with them as the book drew to a close.
That, friends, takes skill. I’ve read quite a few books and I admit to being stubborn when it comes to taking sides when I find a character I like – and frankly, I didn’t like Adam at all. So for me to be convinced to side with him against characters I thoroughly enjoyed … well, color me impressed.
I don’t recommend this book lightly, with all that said. You have to be prepared to settle down for a quiet, calm sort of story. There’s no big drama, no cat fights, no worrying about what might be around the next page. Instead, this is a civilized look at life in the modern day, at community, at family relationships, and most of all it’s a lesson that should be taken to heart by each and every one of us – a lesson which says simply to appreciate what you have, who you are surrounded by, and know that life is short – so make the most of it.
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