Innocents (Segal) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
[A] delightful first novel... wise, witty and observant.
London Times

Segal writes with an understated elegance.
Observer (UK)

"With understated wit, empathy and a cinematic eye of detail, Segal brings alive a host of characters so robust that you can easily imagine them onscreen... A winning debut novel.

A crafty homage... [Segal] writes with engaging warmth.
Entertainment Weekly

Segal’s debut novel is an example of how one can be influenced by great writers who’ve come before yet not be trapped by them. Nice, reliable Adam is engaged to Rachel, the perfect Jewish girl, in a closely knit North West London Jewish community. But Rachel’s free-spirited cousin Ellie, back from a scandalous time in the U.S., makes him feel not so nice and not so reliable. He falls for Ellie, but the machinations of both his fiancée and his community create obstacles to his desires. Inspired by The Age of Innocence, Segal’s book is warmer, funnier, and paints a more dynamic and human portrait of a functional community that is a wonderful juxtaposition to Wharton’s cold social strata in Gilded Age New York. Adam is just as much of a coward as Newland Archer, more in love with the idea of rebellion than actually capable of committing the act. Rachel echoes May Welland’s passive aggressiveness, yet goes after what she wants with more courage when faced with tough choices. Ellie is far more self-aware and less of a victim than Ellen Olenska, which makes her more interesting and sympathetic. The real hero of the book is Lawrence, Adam’s father-in-law, a man who deeply loves his family, appreciates the community, utilizes his “quiet faith,” and is profoundly grateful for his life. The book is full of delightful moments, such as Lawrence’s comment, “Any Jewish holiday can be described the same way. They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat.” Segal took the theme of a well-known novel and made it her own. Lively and entertaining.
Publishers Weekly

Are communities cocoons sheltering us from the rigors of the world, or are they wet blankets stifling creativity and experimentation? That's the quandary facing Adam Newman, a product of the close-knit Jewish community centered around Temple Fortune, London NW11, an enclave that takes care of its own from cradle to grave...and beyond. For 12 years, he has been engaged to Rachel Gilbert and has been a member of her father's legal firm. When cousin Ellie Schneider appears on the scene, trailing clouds of marijuana and rumors of online pornography, Adam is torn between what seems like an unending succession of lovingly detailed family meals (guaranteed to make you reach for the nearest poppy seed coffee cake) and what Ellie might have to offer. If the story sounds familiar, that's because it is. In the year that marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edith Wharton, this imitation of The Age of Innocence is the sincerest form of flattery. The unexpressed moral might be plus ça change. Verdict: Readers who enjoy fast-paced, gently satirical literary novels, fans of Allegra Goodman, and book group participants will find a Shabbat dinner's worth of noshing in this accomplished debut novel by the daughter of author Erich Segal.—Bob Lunn, formerly with Kansas City P.L., MO
Library Journal

Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence gets a reboot in this novel set in a present-day London Jewish enclave.... Segal isn't the ornate stylist Wharton is, but she writes elegantly and thoughtfully about Adam's growing sense of entrapment, and she excels at showing how a family's admirable supportiveness can suddenly feel like smothering.... Overall this is a well-tuned portrait of a couple whose connection proves to be much more tenuous than expected, and of religious rituals that prove more meaningful than they seem. Segal thoughtfully ties in family Holocaust lore and high-holiday gatherings to show that those long-standing bonds are tough to break. Even if the plot and themes are second-hand, this is an emotionally and intellectually astute debut.
Kirkus Reviews

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