Author: Francesca Segal
Winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2012 and runner up for the Costa Book of the Year 2013, The Innocents is a clever take on Edith Wharton’s successful tale, The Ages of Innocence. Francesca Segal’s debut adapts Wharton’s account of the 1870s scandal within the New York elites, into a modern-day London setting.
Segal draws subtle parallels between the tight knit upper-class society of nineteenth century New York and the present day insular London Jewish community. Criticised by some for being an average regurgitation of a classic, for a first book, Segal far surpasses this assessment. This intriguing insight into the Jewish life of London is an ironic twist on Wharton’s classic, transforming what has been viewed by some as an anti-Semitic novel into a distinctly Jewish novel. Her tender rendition of characters creates real, likeable figures and integrates historical context throughout, for instance a Holocaust victim features as a central character. Her attempt to include references to the current economic recession, although somewhat half hearted, also sets this novel apart from its source of inspiration.
This novel is delicately written, an honest depiction of loyalty and temptation, proving an easy read for all. It leaves the reader pondering over the significance of individual choice and decision. Yet, this book fails to hold true substance and direction. The rich detail Segal provides, gives the reader an illuminative insight into Jewish culture and everyday life but beyond this, the novel is lacking. Segal’s gradual build up of suspense fails to reach a climax in the book’s final stages, and fails to make the leap from a good novel to an excellent one. Overall, as a first novel, its beautifully descriptive style and successful attempt to recreate a classic explains why The Innocents was awarded the 2012 Costa First Novel Award, but in regards to this year’s Book of the Year Award, it is evident why this novel failed to win.