Monday, 17 February 2014

The Innocents by Francesca Segal

This is a book I read for the Challenge '2014 Monthly Motif Challenge'. The February challenge is to read a Literary Award winner. I chose one from the Costa Award. I still remember the 2006 winner Stef Penney and 'The Tenderness of Wolves' as one of my favourite books. In 2012 Francesca Segal won the 'First Novel Award' with 'The Innocents'.

This is a worthy first novel winner. The book is very well written and it is one of these books that keeps you in the story even after you have finished it. It is about a Jewish community in the London area. We follow Adam who is around 30 and Rachel, his girlfriend since 16 years and soon to be wife. In comes Rachel's cousin Ellie from New York where she moved with her father as a teenager. Her life has been rather wild (photo model, porn star, mistress etc) in comparison to the family and friends surrounding Adam and Rachel.

The community in which Adam and Rachel spends their time is a life of religious holidays and family gatherings, helping each other, interfering in each others life; it seems to be a very traditional life where you already know as a young man and woman how your life will be. You just have to look at the older generation. Adam is quite happy to have this secure environment, especially since he lost his father when he was 8 years old and Rachel's father, who is also  his boss, has been like a father figure for him.
Rachel is a rather innocent girl, working as a teacher and wants to stop working when they marry to take care of Adam, house and family. They are the perfect young couple. This is all very well with Adam until Ellie comes home.

Ellie, whose mother was killed when she was about the same age as Adam has grown up with her father in New York. The father is the brother of Rachel's mother and they are cousins. However, the father was a bohemia and did not really fit in with the rest of the family. This has obviously been inherited by his daughter. She is left more or less to herself. When she now returns she has a reputation for a rather wild life and light years away from the traditional Jewish life that the others live.

As you can imagine Ellie is the exciting point in the life of these people. Fascinating as being different, a beautiful girl with a bad reputation. Everyone wants to help her back to a 'normal' life except herself. Adam get fascinated and intoxicated by her. They are drawn to each other and Adam feels this urge to protect her. At the same time he runs into an old friend from school, a journalist, living with his girl friend and their nine month old daughter. They are living away from the family and in a discussion with him Adam realises that, although it is difficult for them to get help from their family since they live elsewhere, it is some kind of freedom. To be away from the family and have your own life to live as you like.

Two examples of a different life at a time when Adam feels a little bit of panic to settle down and marry. This is the essence of the story and it is rather fascinating. I will not reveal how the story evolves because that would be to spoil it. But I think it is quite essential for all of us today how we want to live. We want to have the freedom of our own lives but we also want to be close to our family.

This is a fantastic first novel from Francesca Segal (daughter of Erich Segal who wrote 'Love Story'). It is very well written and you can easily follow them around London if you are familiar with the area. It is an interesting story with the modern dilemma for communities like this; continue as it has always been or break free and live another life. Either way you choose...maybe none of them are able to find true happiness? Or are they?

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