Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: "The Innocents" by Francesca Segal

"The Innocents" is the 5th novel that I have read from this year's Women's Prize longlist.
At first, me and "The Innocents" got along quite well. I expected it to be a lighter kind of read and the dilemma that the main character was faced with ("... and must make a choice that will break either one heart, or many.") I was highly curious about.
The setting is Jewish community in modern-day London, which I was not familiar with and thus, it was interesting to learn about. I can't say I personally would be happy living in the community that is so conservative, where traditions and appearances play such a big role, but as someone in the novel said, for Jews having something this constant and unchanging is a big thing due to their history.
Adam, the central character, who was preparing to marry Rachel, loooong-time girlfriend and sweetheart (and neither of them having much other experience in relationships except each other) seemed to battle these conventions of the community. The need to do everything just as it has always been done, and the constant "but what will the neigbours think". At first it was refreshing to see how Adam felt, and I could relate easily because I am myself very much the kind of person who tries not to care overly of what others think and basically use own brain when making decisions instead of doing something just "because it's always been like that/done that way".
Adam gets pushed to these thoughts by the black sheep of the family, Rachel's cousin Ellie, who is at the same time the centre of gossip and the pity in the community. Ellie works as a model and has an "embarrassing incident" from the past, related to an appearance in an adult performance/film (or something similar). I liked Ellie a lot in the first half of the book, she was like an alien in this family. Especially I liked it how she was being pitied and people assumed she wants to "make up" for her past mishaps, and she said, why should she feel bad for something that she doesn't regret doing, and why feel bad for what you are. I thought, "Go Ellie!" and "That's my girl!" and "You show them prudes!".
Unfortunately, about half way through the book, something happened and I became restless, I kept making this move with my nose that I do when I'm not particularly happy with something and felt more and more "meh" as the story progressed. Firstly, in the second half of the book Ellie became like some kind of a background decoration. She wasn't given much to say anymore, she just was. Also, in those rare occasions when she did get to speak, I found myself rolling eyes at her. Like, when she was talking about how she reads everything (!) by Dickens and Tolstoy while sitting in the chair waiting for her make-up to get done, I got a bit rolley-eyed and said "Really, Ellie, really?" as I was feeling that this was going a bit over the top in attempts of making her The Awesome Heroine.
The culmination that the story had been building up towards finally took place somewhere in the final quarter of the book and by that time I didn't really care anymore. It was too late and even worse, what it led to made me (literally) scratch my head and ask "What the *beep* was this now?" Because the ending was just ... odd. Either that or I completely missed something. But it didn't make me happy, and it didn't make me angry either, and indifference is definitely worse than no emotions. I  only felt bad because I thought I had completely missed what the author was trying to say.
Also, Rachel - not cool. How I didn't like her. She was the kind of character I would not want to be friends with, and therefore it was, of course, so much easier to be attracted to Ellie. Just the shame that character of Ellie fell flat, for me, in the end. She had so much potential.
My next Women's Prize picks will be "Flight Behavior" by Kingsolver, "NW" by Zadie Smith and "Honour" by Shafak. And I still have "Alif the Unseen" to review (which I loved soooo much.)


  1. Well that is disappointing. Although, to be fair, I didn't really have high hopes for this one. I don't like it when authors try too hard to make one character, as you call it, The Awesome Heroine. For me it ruins it because it destroys all credibility and the character becomes entirely fake to me. I'm sure I'll get round to this one soon though perhaps not too soon.

    Plus the whole Ellie shared name thing...not cool.

    I'm interested to see what you think of Honour, I've still not managed to finish it.

    1. Yes, that was my problem exactly, that I lost faith in Ellie (thehe at the name thing - no worries though, at least you are not called Rachel, who was really the kind of piece of work that I did not enjoy at all :D).

      I'm leaving Honour in the back of the pile to read, trying to finish off the shortlist books before the winner is announced. But I do have the book, so I will read it!

  2. That does sound disappointing, especially as you liked the first half so much. I've been excited to read this book for a while now, sounds like I need to modify my expectations a bit!

    I loved Alif the Unseen too, so creative :)

    1. Actually that's what disturbs me with this book - I'm not sure if I completely missed something. That's why it would be really interesting to read someone else's view on it. Might be that you would really enjoy it.

      Also, I think what made it more difficult for me to review "The Innocents" was the fact that a lot of it takes me down on a very personal, emotional level, some of the things focused on were too close to my heart, and therefore it is a lot more difficult to give any kind of objective opinion on work itself.

      And yes, Alif! I think I just kept tweeting quotes from that one while reading :)

  3. Too bad you didn't like the novel. I think the cover is beautiful! You have a lovely blog, I'm glad I found it. :) x

    1. Thank you! I can see the appeal of this novel, but it just wasn't for me. But it's kind of an easy read that one might enjoy in the middle of more complicated books, that's for sure :)


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