"The Innocents" is the 5th novel that I have read from this year's Women's Prize longlist.
At first, me and "The Innocents" got along quite well. I expected it to be a lighter kind of read and the dilemma that the main character was faced with ("... and must make a choice that will break either one heart, or many.") I was highly curious about.
The setting is Jewish community in modern-day London, which I was not familiar with and thus, it was interesting to learn about. I can't say I personally would be happy living in the community that is so conservative, where traditions and appearances play such a big role, but as someone in the novel said, for Jews having something this constant and unchanging is a big thing due to their history.
Adam, the central character, who was preparing to marry Rachel, loooong-time girlfriend and sweetheart (and neither of them having much other experience in relationships except each other) seemed to battle these conventions of the community. The need to do everything just as it has always been done, and the constant "but what will the neigbours think". At first it was refreshing to see how Adam felt, and I could relate easily because I am myself very much the kind of person who tries not to care overly of what others think and basically use own brain when making decisions instead of doing something just "because it's always been like that/done that way".
Adam gets pushed to these thoughts by the black sheep of the family, Rachel's cousin Ellie, who is at the same time the centre of gossip and the pity in the community. Ellie works as a model and has an "embarrassing incident" from the past, related to an appearance in an adult performance/film (or something similar). I liked Ellie a lot in the first half of the book, she was like an alien in this family. Especially I liked it how she was being pitied and people assumed she wants to "make up" for her past mishaps, and she said, why should she feel bad for something that she doesn't regret doing, and why feel bad for what you are. I thought, "Go Ellie!" and "That's my girl!" and "You show them prudes!".
Unfortunately, about half way through the book, something happened and I became restless, I kept making this move with my nose that I do when I'm not particularly happy with something and felt more and more "meh" as the story progressed. Firstly, in the second half of the book Ellie became like some kind of a background decoration. She wasn't given much to say anymore, she just was. Also, in those rare occasions when she did get to speak, I found myself rolling eyes at her. Like, when she was talking about how she reads everything (!) by Dickens and Tolstoy while sitting in the chair waiting for her make-up to get done, I got a bit rolley-eyed and said "Really, Ellie, really?" as I was feeling that this was going a bit over the top in attempts of making her The Awesome Heroine.
The culmination that the story had been building up towards finally took place somewhere in the final quarter of the book and by that time I didn't really care anymore. It was too late and even worse, what it led to made me (literally) scratch my head and ask "What the *beep* was this now?" Because the ending was just ... odd. Either that or I completely missed something. But it didn't make me happy, and it didn't make me angry either, and indifference is definitely worse than no emotions. I only felt bad because I thought I had completely missed what the author was trying to say.
Also, Rachel - not cool. How I didn't like her. She was the kind of character I would not want to be friends with, and therefore it was, of course, so much easier to be attracted to Ellie. Just the shame that character of Ellie fell flat, for me, in the end. She had so much potential.
My next Women's Prize picks will be "Flight Behavior" by Kingsolver, "NW" by Zadie Smith and "Honour" by Shafak. And I still have "Alif the Unseen" to review (which I loved soooo much.)