Fabulous Fiction Firsts #338
If I had to pick a favorite this publishing season, it would have to be debut author Francesca Segal's The Innocents * *, a captivating recast of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, set this time in Temple Fortune, a swanky, and close-knit Jewish enclave in North West London.
28 year-old Adam Newman considers himself very lucky - newly engaged to sweet Rachel Gilbert with her traditional values, embraced by her loving family, and assured as heir-apparent in her father's prestigious law firm. Turning his world upside down is Rachel's younger cousin Ellie who arrives from New York discredited (Columbia University), disgraced (for the less than above-board arrangements with a married man), and scandalized (for her starring role in an "art house" film).
Adam does try to keep clear of Ellie but their mutual attraction and Ellie's fiercely independent thinking and reckless behavior keep drawing them together. "While the basic plot will not surprise Wharton readers, this new version of a classic is appealingly fresh and brisk, taking on issues of love, community, and compromise as unforeseen events alter the courses of lives", coming most appropriately on the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edith Wharton.
Francesca Segal "writes elegantly and thoughtfully about Adam's growing sense of entrapment... (and) 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." Francesca was born in London and studied at Oxford and Harvard University before becoming a journalist and critic. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Guardian, and The Observer. She is daughter of author Erich Segal.
Flying lower on the media radar is another Edith Wharton recast this summer - Gilded Age: A Novel by another debut novelist Claire McMillan, inspired by The House of Mirth, and set in contemporary Cleveland. A little darker and more demanding, but engaging just the same. Former English majors should feast on them.
* * =Starred reviews