The Innocents by Francesca Segal: April 2013 book of the month

The InnocentsThe Innocents (winner of the 2012 Costa First Novel Award) 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 author Francesca Segal firmly sets her version of events in 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.

The real brilliance in this book is the comparative (and often similar) manners, fashion, attitudes and social behaviour in 19th-century Gilded Age New York and the equally nuanced 21st-century North London. But where Wharton vilifies the cold social strata of the rich, Segal takes a wittier and often warmer perspective: the family may be suffocating but it is also a place of love, generosity and acceptance.

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 must shoulder.

About Francesca Segal

Francesca SegalFrancesca Segal was born in London in 1980. Brought up in the UK and America, she studied at Oxford before becoming a journalist and critic.

Her work has appeared in Granta, the Guardian, the Financial Times and Vogue. For three years she wrote the Debut fiction round-up in the Observer, and has also worked as a features writer at Tatler. The Innocents is her first novel. Find out more here, and you can follow her on Twitter.

Book club discussion: Tuesday 30 April 

We're thrilled that Francesca Segal will be answering questions about The Innocents, winning the Costa Award and her writing career, on Tuesday 30 April, 9-10pm. Please feel free to discuss the book throughout the month and then come and chat to Francesca on Tuesday 30 April.

If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always buy The Innocents in paperback or Kindle and join April's book club discussion.

This giveaway has now closed, but you can buy the book here


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