Friday, December 14, 2012

The Innocents

In the June 2012 issue of Vogue, Francesca Segal discusses the classic from which The Innocents is based.  Whereas The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, takes place in 19th century New York, The Innocents is set in the Jewish enclave of Temple Fortune (London), circa 2012.  Like the Edith Wharton novel, The Innocents deals with young love and the allure of the forbidden.  Segal's use of literary allusion provides a timeless look at upper-class society.

Adam Newman is the childhood sweetheart of Rachel Gilbert, a good-hearted young woman raised in the security of a protective and loving family. Having lost his father at an early age, Adam has been welcomed into the Gilbert home like a son.  He is particularly close to Rachel's father and works as a lawyer in his firm. But as plans for a large wedding are being made, Adam begins to feel suffocated.  The close-knit family within the insular Jewish community offers security but insists on conformity.  To make matters worse, Rachel's cousin Ellie comes to visit and Adam falls passionately in love with this troubled beauty.  Unlike Rachel, Ellie is uninhibited and promiscuous.  Her life has been a series of bad choices leading up to a scandal with an older married man.

In beautiful prose reminiscent of  The Three Weissmann's of Westport (Cathleen Schine, 2010), Segal explores the conflict between the safe and conventional versus the exotic and the unknown.  She also deals with the dilemmas of young love amidst the strength of family bonds. In the character of Adam, we see a young man who has never dealt with the grief of losing a parent, whose very development has been stunted by repressed anger.  This is the quality he shares with Ellie, whose self-destructive bent threatens to pull him under.  The chemistry between them, and the sense of impending disaster, keeps this novel moving from the first page to the last.

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