The Innocents, by Francesca Segal, is a novel that explores relationships wrapped in subtleties that entice one to another. I have heard that the book is inspired by Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence”, and if true, did not find exacting similarities within the pages, other than the subtleties of temptation.
There are two main characters that are relevant to the story line: Adam Newman, Rachel Gibson. A third character, Ellie Schneider is intrusive, but a necessary part of the story line. Adam and Rachel live in Jewish London, engaged to be married, and will be married within a year. They are high school sweethearts. He adores her, loves her mannerisms, her face and the way he feels when he is around her. He would prefer getting married immediately. Rachel is a cute type, somewhat immature for a person in her twenties. She is the epitome of a pampered princess. She wrapped up in wedding plans, and the entire scenario of a social affair, complete with all the trimmings. She does not want that hindered in any aspect, and is obsessed with organizing it. .
Adam lives with a constant sense of grief within him, since his father died when he was a young boy. His soon-to-be father-in-law showers him with fatherly kindness, and found Adam a job in his company, but it isn’t enough. The sense of loss is a constant that follows him like a shadow.
Ellie Schneider arrives from New York, and the fireworks begin. Nuances arise, especially from Ellie. She is Jewish, also, Rachel’s cousin, yet the extreme opposite of Rachel. She is outgoing, aggressive, a porn film star (art house film according to the family) a drug user, and a blonde explosion of sexuality, even in synagogue, where one is expected to dress in a proper manner. Adam falls for her, and their supposedly subtle interactions foster his sense of yearning and desire for her. Temptation is strong, and Adam is torn between his commitment to Rachel, and his desire for Ellie.
Adam and Rachel have been protected throughout their lives by their families. They are both naive, and their naivety shows in their interactions, not only with each other, but others. They have been together for twelve years. Is their relationship founded more on habit than love? Do they really have the bond that their family members are so protective of? Is Adam and Rachel’s foundation built on substance and love? And, what of the family, do they see through the frailties and delicateness?
I found the story line to be enjoyable, and the writing to be vivid. Francesca Segal has written a first novel that is written with a sense of family dynamics that bind members together in a protective and loving fashion. The past is very much in the present within the family attitude, as stability, family priorities, and a sense of place is extremely important. Having come from a place of loss, older family members treasure the family fold and will do anything to protect its environment.
I recommend The Innocents, by Francesca Segal to those looking for insight on Jewish family life, family dynamics and the issues of requited love.
May 7, 2013 27 Iyyar, 5773
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