Join Francesca Segal to talk about April Book of the Month, THE INNOCENTS, Tuesday April 30, 9-10pm

(112 Posts)

Firstly, many congratulations to our April author Francesca Segal - not only the winner of the Costa First Novel Award, but also now longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, announced two days ago.

Francesca's debut novel is a beautifully executed homage to Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. The central story of THE INNOCENTS - a newly engaged couple from a privileged community, whose impending marriage is threatened by a dangerously seductive cousin - remains the same. But Segal's transports the characters to contemporary London, specifically the sheltered and insular Jewish community of Hampstead Garden Suburb. Adam and Rachel have known each other since childhood; their families (like all the families they know) meet in the same synagogue, holiday in the same Israeli resort, gather at the same feasts at each other's houses year after year. When the wayward and vulnerable model Ellie Schneider arrives back from New York, she causes much consternation in her inability to act 'appropriately'. To Adam, her presence makes him reevaluate everything he held dear: the stability and security that he has always strived for suddenly appearing claustrophobic and restrictive. Segal's masterstroke is her anthropological take on society: the collision between timeless Jewish customs and the changing world beyond the NW postcode, and the endless cultural expectations that every character - from shiksa bride to widowed matriarch to ex-pat New Yorker - must shoulder. Fun, observant and a clever twist on tradition.

You can find more details on our April book of the month page, where there are 50 FREE copies to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours please fill in the form on the book of the month page. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

Find out more at Francesca's beautifully designed website or you can follow her on Twitter: @francescasegal

There are also interesting discussion points and a Q&A on the Vintage website.

We are thrilled that Francesca will be answering questions about THE INNOCENTS, her prizes and her writing career on Tuesday 30 April, 9-10pm. So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and then come and meet the author on Tues 30. Hope you can join us...

textfan Sat 20-Apr-13 02:24:55

How do I 'join' the book club? I'm an English grad looking to widen my reading even more in prep for teacher training.

Lomaamina Sat 20-Apr-13 16:34:27

There's a link to join on this page, along with other book-related things: www.mumsnet.com/books.

DuchessofMalfi Sun 21-Apr-13 16:34:57

I'm half way now, and really enjoying the novel.

One question that occurred to me, so far, is concerning the tight-knit community. You explain how everyone is connected either by blood or by marriage. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and either they meet at Jaffa and Lawrence's house, or on holiday in Eilat. I wondered whether this was meant to show how close and comforting it is to know everyone else, or whether we ought to see that as almost a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere where everyone knows everyone else's business. There's nowhere to go for privacy. Even when you're on holiday you find yourself sharing space with the same people you see every day, and at the synagogue.

The same comment could apply to any tight-knit community - island, village anywhere really where everyone seems to know everyone else's business.

In a way, I wonder whether Adam admires Ellie because she is a free spirit. She hasn't got close ties to the family - she seems able to come and go like her father has done.

Anyway, I'm going to read on, and come back with further thoughts smile

textfan, just click on the Book of the Month links on the homepage (or on the Books homepage) and then come and read the book, ask a question, listen in, whatever you want.

And a reminder to everyone that you don't have to have read the specific book of the month to join in - the authors are here to answer questions on all their work, the process of writing, what recent books they rated, the childhood books they loved. So please feel welcome to get involved, whether it is a specific question or a more general one.

Speaking of which... it is time to start sending any advance questions to Francesca. So if you can't make it on Tuesday 9pm, or you'd like to be first in line, please put your question up here before Monday morning.

Look forward to seeing you all Tuesday night.

DuchessofMalfi Thu 25-Apr-13 08:20:07

I finished reading it last night. First of all, I want to say thank you to Francesca Segal for writing such a thoroughly enjoyable novel. I loved it.

I did wonder, at first, whether I might need a phrase book to translate the Hebrew/Yiddish phrases grin but it turned out to be quite easy to get the meanings. And, in fact, it was a nice touch - another means of drawing all the characters together.

I liked the way at the end that the community all pulled together to help Lawrence and Jaffa in their financial difficulties.

Adam was an idiot - he nearly lost the best thing in his life through his stupid behaviour. I liked that the family and wider community pulled together to remove Ellie, quietly and quickly, from the scene to protect Rachel and Adam's marriage. Nice touch ending on a family party.

I'm looking forward to your next novel smile

cm22v077 Thu 25-Apr-13 13:53:45

Hi, enjoyed the book but was disappointed that it didn't go the other way at the end! Have always been fascinated with Jewish culture so it was an interesting read.
I know a few girls like Rachel who infuriate me so was routing for Ellie and Adam the whole way even though it was wrong!
My question is, do you know people like Rachel? Were your characters based on people who you know or have observed?
Thanks!

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Fri 26-Apr-13 17:07:52

I enjoyed the book too. I guessed fairly soon that Adam was going to fall for Ellie, which made me think I knew how it was going to end, but then with just a couple of chapters to go I realised I still had no idea who he was going to choose.
I didn't find any of the characters that sympathetic, which was really refreshing in a way because it made them much more real and meant that even though the book was through Adam's eyes I didn't feel manipulated into being on his side (or anyone else's!)
My question to Francesca is, what did you think of the ending? Did you secretly wish that Adam had been free to go off with Ellie?

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Fri 26-Apr-13 17:09:04

blush or that will be my question if I make it on Tuesday!

Thanks to everyone for advance questions (and do keep them coming), I'm sending to Francesca now, and looking forward to meeting her properly tomorrow at 9pm...

See you all then.

And for all those scribbling quietly away at their own first novel (or who long to get started), don't forget Francesca is teaching the Mumsnet Academy Fiction for Beginners course on Saturday 8/Sunday 9 June.

SarahAndFuck Mon 29-Apr-13 20:25:39

My Questions

I suppose we would all like to know if you were rooting for Rachel or Ellie throughout the book, and which of them you wanted Adam to choose?

But did you know who Adam would choose when you started the book, or did his choice only become clear to you as you wrote?

And did you like Adam?

I found myself liking Ellie far more than I liked Rachel, but by the end I thought Rachel was far more complex than anyone gave her credit for, including Adam. I think when I reread the book, I may have different loyalties second time around.

When I first started reading, I thought - this is similar to naomi aldermans 'disobedience' - that is, the arrival from new York of an ex-insider who is going to cause ripples among the insiders and have an affair.

As it transpired the books are v. Different and I did love them both. I thought the second half of yours was terrific with great momentum. I wanted to ask tho, if, when you first heard about 'disobedience' did your heart fall or did you understand immediately that there is 'room' for all?

aristocat Mon 29-Apr-13 22:11:51

What a charming book, thank you. I must confess that I am finding the Jewish words a struggle but I have not finished reading it yet, sorry.

My question to Francesca is simply what's next please?

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Mon 29-Apr-13 22:29:30

Does anyone else see parallels with Gone Girl?

Both heroines far more manipulative than they appear to be on the surface, both men unfaithful & on the verge of leaving them but then at the last moment trapped by a pregnancy. OK, it becomes clear that Amy Dunne is an outright sociopath but she practically tells us that herself. We never hear Rachel's voice, we only ever see her through Adam's eyes, & it's clear by the end that he doesn't know her very well at all.

Fourkisses Mon 29-Apr-13 22:41:39

It took me a little while to really get into the book because of the Hebrew. However, once I got past that I was hooked, and couldn't put it down! I swayed between wanting Adam to do the right thing and then rooting for excitement with Ellie. By the end Rachel's character was depicted as more complex than we had first realised, possibly the most complex character in the book.
Un-put-down able and charming.
I haven't read the Age of Innocence so I missed those links. I'm off to download that to my kindle now smile

SarahAndFuck Mon 29-Apr-13 22:53:08

*SPOILER***

Was Adam trapped by a pregnancy though?

I wondered that, because he certainly seems to be by the first one. But after Rachel loses the baby it seems to be him that wanted her to try again for the baby they have by the end of the book. And I wondered if he did that because he had realised her loved her and wanted a family with her, or because he felt guilty and to blame in some way. Or for some other reason. But he seems so happy to be a father.

I kind of hope that when we realised there was more to Rachel than Adam had led us to believe, Adam himself realised the same thing once he got over the shock of the pregnancy and realised that he loved this 'new' Rachel. And that perhaps the miscarriage, coming at the same time as the financial crisis her family were in, gave them the opportunity to be a married couple without the overwhelming outside help from family that Adam seemed to struggle so much with. They could finally be a couple relying on each other.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 09:29:15

Hi Tilly, very much looking forward to the book chat this evening! Just writing this to say a quick hello to everyone, and to test my Mumsnet posting skills. See you all this evening!

Francesca x

TillyBookClub

Firstly, many congratulations to our April author Francesca Segal - not only the winner of the Costa First Novel Award, but also now longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, announced two days ago.

Francesca's debut novel is a beautifully executed homage to Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. The central story of THE INNOCENTS - a newly engaged couple from a privileged community, whose impending marriage is threatened by a dangerously seductive cousin - remains the same. But Segal's transports the characters to contemporary London, specifically the sheltered and insular Jewish community of Hampstead Garden Suburb. Adam and Rachel have known each other since childhood; their families (like all the families they know) meet in the same synagogue, holiday in the same Israeli resort, gather at the same feasts at each other's houses year after year. When the wayward and vulnerable model Ellie Schneider arrives back from New York, she causes much consternation in her inability to act 'appropriately'. To Adam, her presence makes him reevaluate everything he held dear: the stability and security that he has always strived for suddenly appearing claustrophobic and restrictive. Segal's masterstroke is her anthropological take on society: the collision between timeless Jewish customs and the changing world beyond the NW postcode, and the endless cultural expectations that every character - from shiksa bride to widowed matriarch to ex-pat New Yorker - must shoulder. Fun, observant and a clever twist on tradition.

You can find more details on our April book of the month page, where there are 50 FREE copies to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours please fill in the form on the book of the month page. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

Find out more at Francesca's beautifully designed website or you can follow her on Twitter: @francescasegal

There are also interesting discussion points and a Q&A on the Vintage website.

We are thrilled that Francesca will be answering questions about THE INNOCENTS, her prizes and her writing career on Tuesday 30 April, 9-10pm. So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and then come and meet the author on Tues 30. Hope you can join us...

minimuffin Tue 30-Apr-13 10:19:42

Hello - finished this last night and really enjoyed it. I knew how it would end from about halfway through the book - Adam was never going to have the guts to break out of his world - but I don't mean that in a bad way.

I found him a really sympathetic character. He was just curious about the world beyond his own safe community and he wasn't sure how much to give in to that curiosity and where it would take him ultimately. He'd only been with one girl in his life and I think he'll spend the rest of his life knowing that he "did the right thing" but wondering "what if?" because life isn't black and white, feelings change, sometimes you think you did the right thing and sometimes you wish you'd had the guts to do something a bit different. He never even gets to test the water, other than the brief encounter with Ellie. There are good and bad things about belonging to such a close community and this book illustrates them really well. It's not all "closed" either - you have Ellie's dad who decided to break out of NW London and found happiness (though brief) and Willa London who married "in" and is happy. There is the gay couple who are totally accepted - the community is very human, it's not a strict, stifling one.

I was fascinated by the insights into the Jewish community of NW London as I'm fascinated by Judaism generally, my only criticism was that in parts the explanation of the High Holidays etc seemed a bit clunky, it suddenly went into RE lesson territory. But I guess that's difficult to write - it's useful background and it's fact and you have to weave it in somehow.

I found Rachel irritating and childlike but that's because I've never quite understood women who are obsessed with getting married from an early age. I can't imagine a life where you have never sowed any wild oats but I know that some people can - it doesn't scare them, and nor does spending their whole life in the place they were born. Something about that is enviable, and I think Adam understands that but doesn't feel it - that's his conflict.

I thought the twist about his Dad at the end was clever - the extent to which he hadn't really resolved his feelings over his dad's death. Made me look at him in a new light. The whole relationship with Lawrence was wonderful and made his dilemma so much harder. I didn't really have a huge amount more respect for Rachel - she just got what she wanted didn't she? Ellie I found slightly 2-dimensional, never felt I really got to know her, but then you didn't really need to. It was about Adam.

Sorry all a bit garbled as I'm writing in a bit of a rush but I really enjoyed the book and just wanted to share thoughts - will come back with a question for Francesca later when I have chewed it over a bit more.

minimuffin Tue 30-Apr-13 14:59:14

Hi Francesca - I have a couple of questions:

I was just wondering about your writing process today - did you write or consider writing a different ending where Adam took the plunge and left Rachel for Ellie? Or was it always clear to you that his character would never do this? (I really cared about him by the end of the book - I read another bookclub choice - Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - a couple of years ago and still wonder occasionally how things would have turned out for Eilis, would she have been happy. I know that I will keep wondering about Adam as well now!)

Did you include the bit about the miscarriage at the end to show that Adam hadn't felt trapped by Rachel's pregnancy, but had, in effect, re-committed to her and his marriage by trying for another baby? To me (because it all happened so quickly after Ellie's departure) it seemed that fatherhood gives him a clear focus and purpose, an anchor, yet another reason to do the right thing, so he is glad to try for another baby as soon as possible, it saves him as well as his marriage.

You portray your own community really positively and realistically in this novel, I think, and the portrayal is an affectionate one. Has the reaction to it in NW London been positive?!!

aristocat Tue 30-Apr-13 17:38:41

I should have written that I was not lucky enough to get a copy this time but went to my library because I thought it was one I would like to read smile

platanos Tue 30-Apr-13 18:23:48

Just wanted to say I really enjoyed your book. I am interested in tightly knit communities - how they can be both a source of security and a trap. Are you part of such a community?

I rushed the end (I wanted to know what happened blush] but was a bit surprised by Adam's "sudden" grief for his father. Is it because the community took care of the family when his father died, and he had no real chance to grieve?

Rachel surprised me a the end too. But then maybe I should not be so surprised, parenthood is a life-changing experience, and a new side of us often appears...

Will they be happy together? I can't decide...And will Ellie ever be allowed back? what then?!?!

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 18:26:06

I like your reading of it, Sarah.
Maybe the first pregnancy led to his getting to know a more adult Rachel, one he could actually live with as an equal.

DuchessofMalfi Tue 30-Apr-13 18:27:39

I thought that about Rachel's pregnancy too, minimuffin. It would have been too easy to say that Adam had been trapped by Rachel's announcement of her pregnancy, and we would go on assuming that he felt resentful towards her for not allowing him to walk away from his marriage. But it wasn't that simple. Because she sadly lost that baby, their new baby boy symbolised a fresh start for all.

Many interesting questions already. Looking forward to 9pm very much indeed...

And a quick newsflash: everyone who posts a question will be entered into a lucky dip to win a personalised signed copy of THE INNOCENTS.

We'll announce the winner at the end of the chat.

See you soon.

TheOldestCat Tue 30-Apr-13 18:37:48

Won't be able to make the chat but just to say I loved the book.

As others have said, Rachel was clearly more complex and interesting than Adam believes; I felt the whole novel turned on that point.

My question - is how much of the story for you revolves around fatherhood (parenthood)? It's interesting Adam and Ellie have both lost parents, Lawrence is the father figure for Adam, Rachel's son at the end. No time or brain space to devote to now, but it's the theme that intrigues me.

Thanks

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