Arab Today, arab today the innocents by francesca segal
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The Innocents by Francesca Segal

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Arab Today, arab today The Innocents by Francesca Segal

London - Arabstoday

In this impressive first novel, Francesca Segal transports The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton\'s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of scandal among the upper classes in 1870s New York, to the Jewish community of modern-day north-west London. Wharton\'s notorious Countess Ellen Olenska is recast as the beautiful 22-year-old Ellie Schneider, a model who has been kicked out of Columbia University after appearing in a porn film. As the novel opens, she makes a shocking re-entry into the tight-knit community of her birth, arriving at Kol Nidre \"exposing skin from clavicle to navel, wearing a tuxedo jacket with nothing beneath it and black trousers – trousers! – that clung and shimmered as if she\'d been dipped in crude oil\". Segal\'s May Welland is Ellie\'s \"perfect\" cousin Rachel Gilbert, demure, sheltered and innocent, newly engaged to her childhood sweetheart, 28-year-old Adam Newman, the Newland Archer figure. Ellie is the opposite of the \"nice Jewish girls\" who populate Adam\'s world. He finds her \"seedy glamour\" increasingly intoxicating, while the \"promise of certainty always\" with Rachel as his \"steady and loyal co-pilot\" no longer excites him. It\'s a stroke of brilliance on Segal\'s part to demonstrate the striking similarities between the polished social manners of waspish 19th-century New York and 21st-century Hampstead Garden Suburb – with the added frisson of a last laugh, given Wharton\'s antisemitism. The claustrophobia of the NW postcode is perfectly pitched – even the annual winter holiday in Eilat provides a host of \"familiar faces plucked from around the upper branches of the Northern Line and deposited on the banks of the Red Sea\". While Rachel \"liked what she knew and was content for everything to remain precisely as it was\", Adam\'s awakening involves the realisation that there might be \"a world outside NW11\". Yet Segal makes the story her own. The tightrope Adam must walk between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the reliable and the spontaneous, has a markedly contemporary tinge; it\'s a dilemma that will feel relevant to almost any young person from a traditional community. As Segal observes, though, the \"other side of interference was support … There was no life event … through which one need ever walk alone. Twenty-five people were always poised to help.\" This isn\'t a simple case of a young man broadening his horizons. There\'s a fine line between the limiting and the limitless. The Innocents is a compelling read and Segal writes with a delicate, understated elegance. Given the current obsession with quirky anti-heros and narratives bordering on magical-realist, Segal\'s more traditional approach (apt, given her subject matter) is refreshing.

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