No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, June 04, 2006

#54: Innocence -- Kathleen Tessaro

This is the story of Evie, who comes to England from America, aged 18, to study acting: befriends the girls she shares a house with, Robbie and Imogene, who are both also drama students: falls in love with Jake, a rock musician: and ends up turning away from her dreams.

Interwoven with that thread is the story of Evie in her mid-thirties, a single mother with a four-year-old son (Alex), an eccentric landlady, and a career teaching drama at the City Lit. Robbie is dead, knocked over by a taxi in New York City: but they'd grown apart anyway.

Gradually the events that led from drama school to the City Lit are unfolded, and Alex's origins become clear. And suddenly, a blast from the past, Evie encounters an old friend in very unexpected circumstances: an old friend with a message.

I didn't like this book nearly as much as Tessaro's previous, Elegance: I don't know if it's simply that I'm not at the right point in my life to read it. It's very much a wake-up-and-take-stock novel, a book for women in their thirties who've spent their twenties living life (possibly living it a little too hard) and now start to wonder where they are and what they have. There are two 'morals', two lessons, in this book -- two that really stand out, anyway -- and I'm not sure I agree with either of them.

The first is, possibly predictably for this genre (I suppose this is what they call 'chick lit', though it's better-written and better-plotted than other examples I've read), that it's never too late, that there are opportunities -- not only of the romantic sort -- everywhere if you just open your eyes. And the second is that there are no mistakes, no accidents: that we end up where we're meant to be.

Evie does find closure, and new beginnings, and a new lease of life: and I'm happy to say that there is a happy ending that doesn't depend on romantic fulfilment.

There's a big Plot Device in this novel that's never really explained. How does the old friend reappear? But if you can accept that, and suspend disbelief at a couple of outrageous confidence tricks (in which no one is hurt, though an ego or two might be bruised), then this is an enjoyable read, whether or not you buy the moral at the end:

There's a peace that comes from the integrity of self that the rough fortunes of happiness can't touch. But it can only be paid for in acts of courage.


  1. This was an excellent review of this novel. I agree with your summary of the morals of this book but unlike you I tend to agree with both of them, especially the second one. I do think that we do somehow end up where we're meant to be, and that we can't really blame missed opportunities on accidents.

    I enjoyed this novel better than her first which I found surprising.


  2. Great review! I agree with all of your assessments on Innocence, and wondered when we were going to actually learn what was going on with Robbie's sudden emergence from beyond the grave. I guess I just liked the book enough to forget how weird that was -- but it was weird!

  3. Anonymous3:54 pm

    Yes, loved the book, I have been engrossed for the last week - but who did Evie end up with, Jake or Poitr??? Frustrated with the ending!