This has been quite a year for debut novelist Francesca Segal, the 33-year-old author of “The Innocents.” Her book won the National Jewish Book Award for fiction, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the 2013 Harold U. Ribalow prize, and was longlisted for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction. The novel reimagines Edith Wharton’s classic New York novel, “The Age of Innocence,” setting it in London’s Temple Fortune Jewish community where Segal has lived for much of her life.
“Reading a novel set in 1870s haute New York society, I felt such an unexpected, urgent, vivid sense of recognition that I could no longer imagine writing another word until I had written this,” the Oxford-educated Segal wrote earlier this year. “The trappings were different but the social concerns, the pressures, the closeness and longevity of friendships, the judgment, the parochialism and the paramount importance of What Everybody Thinks — it was just the same.”
In writing “The Innocents,” Segal has performed the neat trick of combining the appeal of popular fiction with the demands of a serious literary novel — demonstrating a talent that was the hallmark of her father, the late Erich Segal, who taught Greek and Latin literature but also penned the classic 1970 weep-fest, “Love Story,” and the screenplay to the Beatles’ psychedelic animated film, “Yellow Submarine.” Next up for Segal — a television adaptation of “The Innocents,” produced by Carnival Films, perhaps best known for “Downton Abbey.”