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VINE VOICEon July 24, 2013
This book, which is a reworking of an Edith Wharton novel, is set among the prosperous Jewish community of northwest London, a fairly closed society where everyone knows everyone and there are no secrets. These people adhere to their religion which binds them to each other - without being tremendously orthodox. I grew up in North London and have several friends who are deeply embedded into the life of Hampstead Garden Suburb depicted here. I don't think they would complain that this book treats them unfairly.

Adam, a promising young lawyer, is engaged to school teacher Rachel after 12 years of dating. He's tall and hunky, she's petite, a bit inclined to plumpness but adorable. He questions his place in the world, having lost his father as a child. She questions nothing, having grown up in the bosom of a loving family that is on the edge of suffocating. Adam wonders if there might be more to life. Rachel knows that her life will be perfect and looks forward to motherhood. Adam also works in the firm in which Rachel's father is a senior partner. He is loved like a son - but only so long as he stays faithful to Rachel.

Enter Rachel's cousin, supermodel Ellie, who is lanky and skinny and troubled, on the run from a sex scandal in New York City. Like Adam, she lost one parent early and the other is absent. Ellie and Adam see each other as kindred spirits, Both have known loss and have holes in their souls that need to be filled. Both are in search of the kind of passion that can make their deep hurts go away. But Adam is committed to Rachel and abandoning her would mean sacrificing everything.

We follow these characters through the fabric of their lives, in synagogue, at Arsenal football games (the real shrine where the men worship), Christmas breaks in Eilat where all the guests in the hotel come from the same part of London, weddings, circumcisions and toward the end a devastating financial crisis. We see the community band together to defend itself against external threats. She sees the stuffy conformism but also appreciate the moral strength that adhering to communal values based on a religion can add.

"There is so much bourgeois bullxxx in Hampstead Garden Suburb and gossip and whispering, but you know what? People there have values that make you sit up straighter," says one character.

The author is sometimes caught a little between wanting to explain Jewish life to readers who may not be familiar with its practices and yet not turning the book into a series of tedious explanations for those who are. She doesn't always succeed in this.

The book is kind of predictable and the depiction of the attraction between Ellie and Adam is not fully convincing but the novel really does work well as a fair and balanced and accurate portrait of this society with all of its strengths and weaknesses. Yes, they gossip and are judgmental but they are also fairly tolerant and forgiving. The end of the book is probably it's strongest aspect. It leaves the reader unsure whether to be sad or happy for the characters. The main thing is not the individual but the community. People may be a little happier or perhaps a little unhappier but their children will be loved and cared for and life will go on.
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on June 26, 2012
Downloaded this book to read on vacation as I imagined it to be "light" and easy to read. It was easy to read -- and hard to put down and definitely not just "light." I loved Wharton's "Age of Innocence" and I believe I loved this one equally as much. Although we are living in an age when we think there is no innocence, some cultures create their own version. I felt the depiction of the closeness and closed-ness of the Jewish culture to be very interesting and, although I have no first hand knowledge, believable.

There is also some food for thought here: does family closeness automatically mean a lack of freedom? Is freedom really what everyone desires or is it as Janis so aptly said "nothing left to lose?" Just because the "establishment" finds something wrong; does that automatically make it right? What is the real value of family closeness; what does one give up rejecting that?

In short, I really liked this novel much more than I even thought. Highly recommended whether or not one has read the "Age of Innocence."
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on December 29, 2012
I had heard that the main story line was based on The Age of Innocence, but set in modern-day London. I was curious about how that premise played out. But after I got well into the book, I forgot about its source, and realized I was reading a very well-written novel with psychological underpinnings every bit as profound as those found in Wharton -- perhaps even moreso. Finished it days ago, and still thinking.
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on September 9, 2012
From page 132...

"Friday Night Dinner" is one of the most evocative phrases in the vocabulary of any Jew---up there in significance with "my son the doctor" and "my daughter's wedding."

What I loved most about this book was the author's ability to bring me into the setting, whether it was a synagogue, a New Year's Eve dinner on a family vacation, a hospital setting, or the train station in Paris. The descriptions and narratives are so detailed that I could smell the food, taste the whipped creme on the hot chocolate and be in the offices during a very modern financial crises.

I related most to Ellie, the cousin on the outside, looking in. She was smart and complicated yet vulnerable and innocent.

If you love avid descriptive stories with simple yet complicated characters, try this book.

I loved it.
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on September 23, 2012
An insightfgul view of the London Orthodox Jewish society. There is a nifty financial collapse, a young man's struggle to grapple with the early loss of his father and a moral questioning of behavoir which adds a depth to this otherwise breezy novel.
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on June 15, 2015
This is a modern update of Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence". Instead of white waspy families in America this book centers around British Jewish families. I didn't LOVE it, but it was a quick read, and we actually had some good discussions on it in book group.
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on October 14, 2012
This is my very first time writing a book review. I wish I had commented on so many books that were fantastically wonderful, but this one, THE INNOCENTS was a most disappointing read. When the last sentence ended, my out loud comment was, "Is this it?" A sense of basically reading nothing of interest. No surprises, nothing scary, not even a giggle. A help with some of the Jewish phrases would have been a nice touch. Rachael needed a dose of reality .... and some distance from the two matriarch's of her family. Adam, will suffer all his remaining days.
I finished this book, as it was a monthly book club suggestion. Along with 7 other women, we always search amazon's books! :) I wish I had the time back to read a good book, instead of this tale of "so what, and who cares?" Madeleine Davis, Valriico, Florida
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on November 1, 2012
Plodding and predictable, this book never uses a page when a chapter will do. I kept hoping things would pick up so I stuck with it until I was too far in to give up or turn back. Then I raced to the finish, anxious to leave these uninteresting, immature characters behind.
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on July 9, 2015
If you have read, loved or seen Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence, then this will probably do. If not, and a look at choice and how environment and social mores affect choice - then there's no choice read Wharton. You don't win Pulitzers for nothing ,especially if you're the first woman to achieve this.
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on July 31, 2012
Maybe it's just me, but have you ever been reading a book that, if you didn't have other obligations, you would finish in one day, or even one sitting? If I had had the chance, I would have devoured Francesca Segal's excellent The Innocents in one day. But having to slow down my pace allowed me to savor it a little more, which certainly wasn't a bad thing.

Inspired by Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, yet set in Temple Fortune, a close-knit Jewish suburb of northwest London, the book follows Adam Newman, a successful and handsome 28-year-old who has recently gotten engaged to Rachel Gilbert, whom he has dated since the two were 16 and met on a tour of Israel. The two are celebrated for their engagement and have a relationship that is the envy of their community. Rachel's strong sense of right and wrong, her devotion to family and friends, and her relative innocence are some of the things that appeal most to Adam, and Rachel looks to Adam for the solid steadiness and protection she has always gotten from her parents. But when Rachel's younger cousin, Ellie, a troubled model and actress living in New York, comes to Temple Fortune, she brings chaos, drama, and a freeing excitement that Adam has never known. Should he risk all that he has built his life upon for a chance at a different kind of happiness he never expected, or should he stay the course that he has been destined to follow his entire life?

I thought Francesca Segal did a fantastic job with this book. The characters, while familiar in some ways, were unique, complex, and flawed, and you're truly not sure who to root for. She pays close attention to detail and has created a community and a circle of interconnected family and friends that you'd expect in a book twice this size. This book has humor, sadness, excitement, and hopefulness. I found myself hooked within the first few pages and wasn't able to let go until I finished reading. This was definitely a quick read, and a tremendously well-written one at that.
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