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The Innocents by Francesca Segal


I was driven to read this book, after abandoning this year’s Women’s Prize Winner “May We Be Forgiven” and it was ten fold better than sitting through the first chapter of  May We Be Forgiven reading the protagonist being amorous (I am being polite here) to his brother’s wife. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for Sam@Tiny Library recommending this book to me because it was worth it!

Adam and Rachel have known each other since they were a child. Both came from the close-knitted Jewish Community where religious rituals and celebrations and festivals are celebrated with the same food and the same rituals for centuries. For a people whose history is one of exodus and eviction, the luxury of repetition is precious (page 210). Family and community is at heart of every decision and the elders and matriarch are respected. Everyone follows a predestined path. Life is predictable and stable. Adam and Rachel is about to get married, as everyone in the family expects.

Then came Ellie. The very beautiful, all-so-glamourous, scandalous and troubled cousin of Rachel, the favourite granddaughter of the matriarch, Ziva.  Ellie represents everything that Adam has tried all his life to avoid – and everything that is missing from his world. Ellie evokes the spirit of adventure in Adam and the world outside his insular community. It doesn’t seem as if Adam is going to get the same from Rachel.

Rachel liked what she knew and was content for everything to remain precisely as it was, though it would be unfair to say she was ignorant. That there were worlds and lives beyond theirs had not escaped her, but she was certain enough of her own place to be resolutely incurious about the knowledge that those worlds might offer… Rachel knew who she was. – page 20

As the long waited wedding approaches, Adam is torn between duty and temptation, security and freedom and must make a choice that will break either one heart, and in the community, inevitably many hearts.

At first this looks set to be typical Hollywood romcom where the bride (Runaway Bride) or the groom (The Wedding Planner) ran away with the guest or the wedding planner; but the novel proves me wrong by adding so much depth in the tension and inner turmoil.

I emphatised with all three characters that are caught in a love triangle. I do not want to spoil the plot for you but surprisingly Ellie wants to be more like Rachel and Rachel just want to be err… Rachel. You can sense while the two cousins love each other, there is a hidden rivalry and jealousy of wanting what the other possessed. At every turn when I as a reader thought things are going to be blown out of proportion, it was muffled with a surprising twist.

The prose is contemplative. It slows down my reading speed yet it suits the plot because the style builds up tension and describes the emotional turmoil more vividly. A lot of actions need to be construed, not all are explicit. I did not find out about the motive of the central characters until the very end.

I have read so many books on dysfunctional families, the betrayal, the deceit and the follow your heart at any costs stories in many recent novels (trust me, my choice is not deliberate!) that it is soooooooo…. refreshing to read a book that celebrates the support of a community, the joy of a new born and the bond that ties with your family and the people other than your immediate parents, who loves you. There were many interference in the lives of two people, but The other side of interference was support (page 158); and the story was never short of good examples of family members supporting one another. A book that has an old-fashioned moral message for a change.

If you ever wonder what is the world outside the one that you are living in and if you are prepared to spend the rest of your life in certainty or not, depending on your take in life, you may like or dislike this novel. The characters are ambiguous and I like that there is something more sinister beneath someone who seems to be the most innocent. I think this would make a great book club discussion book. Costa Book award winners and I don’t usually get along, but this one did. I love it and I hope you do too.

Rating: four stars

Other views:

Sam@Tiny Library: I’ve seen some mixed reviews of The Innocents, but I simply loved everything about this book.

Riv@Bookish Realm: The culmination that the story had been building up towards finally took place somewhere in the final quarter of the book and by that time I didn’t really care anymore.

About the writer:

Francesca Segal

Francesca Segal was born in London in 1980. Brought up in the UK and America, she studied at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, before becoming a journalist and critic. Her work has appeared in Granta, the Guardian, the Financial Times and both American and British Vogue, amongst others. For three years she wrote the Debut Fiction Column in the Observer and she has been a Features Writer at Tatler. The Innocents is her first novel.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


4 thoughts on “The Innocents by Francesca Segal

  1. Oh. I must put this in my TBR. Two of my favorite reviewers raving about this book! I too have read many a dysfunctional-based story of late, I think it all started with ‘Gone Girl.’ But I have read a couple of light-hearted capers, the last one being ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.’

    Posted by SM | June 23, 2013, 3:26 am
  2. How good was this book? So glad you enjoyed it as well 🙂

    Posted by Sam @ Tiny Library | June 23, 2013, 5:53 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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