Book Review by Molly Lundquist
Francesca Segal's smart update of The Age of Innocence is pitch perfect—from the homonym of the titles to the satirical gaze leveled at social conformity. Even character names are parallel—Adam Newman for Newland Archer, and Ellie for Ellen.
Segal, though, offers a more nuanced judgment of community than Edith Wharton does. The Innocents' tight-knit Jewish enclave in 21st-century North London is far more benign, if still benighted, than the upper-crust of Manhattan's late 19th century. And the conformity Adam Newman struggles against is as much in his mind as imposed from without.
All is perfect in the life of 28-year-old Adam Newman—a fine job, a circle of loyal friends, and a beautiful fiancee, Rachel Gilbert, whom he has loved since his early teens. But perfection is ever vulnerable, and for Adam its disruption comes in the form of Ellie Schneider, Rachel's beautiful but errant cousin.
Ellie, abandoned by her father early on, was raised haphazardly in New York, from where she has recently returned to London. The extended Gilbert family and Jewish community expect Ellie to keep her transgressive life under wraps—or as Ellie more starkly puts it...
to be something I'm not.... They want me to be perfect like Rachel or expect me to be broken and helpless in a way that would be more palatable, I guess, or sympathetic.Ellie brandishes an honesty and intensity for life that shocks Adam out his complacency. He senses something "vast and incalculable" in Ellie, which lays bare the prosaic quality of his own and Rachel's life. "God knows, I am not Rachel," Ellie says to Adam, "but I get through the day...and that should be enough."
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