All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Akin by Emma Donoghue

on October 28, 2019

Emma Donoghue
2019, 352p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A retired New York professor’s life is thrown into chaos when he takes a young great-nephew to the French Riviera, in hopes of uncovering his own mother’s wartime secrets in the next masterpiece from New York Times bestselling author Emma Donoghue.

Noah Selvaggio is a retired chemistry professor and widower living on the Upper West Side, but born in the South of France. He is days away from his first visit back to Nice since he was a child, bringing with him a handful of puzzling photos he’s discovered from his mother’s wartime years. But he receives a call from social services: Noah is the closest available relative of an eleven-year-old great-nephew he’s never met, who urgently needs someone to look after him. Out of a feeling of obligation, Noah agrees to take Michael along on his trip.

Much has changed in this famously charming seaside mecca, still haunted by memories of the Nazi occupation. The unlikely duo, suffering from jet lag and culture shock, bicker about everything from steak frites to screen time. But Noah gradually comes to appreciate the boy’s truculent wit, and Michael’s ease with tech and sharp eye help Noah unearth troubling details about their family’s past. Both come to grasp the risks people in all eras have run for their loved ones, and find they are more akin than they knew.

Written with all the tenderness and psychological intensity that made Room an international bestseller, Akin is a funny, heart-wrenching tale of an old man and a boy, born two generations apart, who unpick their painful story and start to write a new one together.

Room is the only book I’ve read by Emma Donoghue and I enjoyed it a lot. I’m pretty sure I own another of her books somewhere in my TBR piles. This sounded interesting – Noah is a 79yo man, a widower with no children who has retired from his profession of teaching chemistry. He’s about to undertake the trip of a lifetime, back to where he was born in the South of France. He is just about ready to leave when he receives a call from social services, saying he might be the only relative of a young boy named Michael, who needs care.

I actually thought social services were pretty strict about who they placed children with and a 79yo man who has never had children, nor met this child, seemed a bit of a stretch to be carer of an 11yo boy. Michael’s mother is in prison, his grandmother (mother’s mother) who was caring for him recently passed away. Michael’s father, who was Noah’s nephew, died of a drug overdose. Michael’s other grandmother, Noah’s sister, has also recently passed. It seems he’s the only one left who might be able to care for him within the extended family without taking him into care and it seems a given that he’ll just have to take Michael with him to Nice. A passport is hastily acquired and the two find themselves on a plane, bound for France. Noah is determined to find the origin and purpose of some mysterious photos he discovered in his mother’s possessions and the trip seems designed to basically both reconnect with his origins and try and find out why his mother kept these particular photos, which, on first glance, seem to be nothing special, nor even particularly well framed.

A lot of the book revolves around Noah’s attempts to make a connection with Michael, whom he’s never met before he basically then took him halfway around the world away from everything that he knew. Michael is the same age as my eldest son but for me, acted much older. And that might very well be because of his upbringing – he’s had to grow up quite fast, losing both his parents in one way or another and then losing the grandmother that cared for him. He seemed to live in a quite dangerous area of New York as well, regularly talking about people getting shot, etc. He’s glued to a mobile phone, playing some sort of game where you kill people (Fortnite? Who knows, could be anything) and has quite an attitude, some or most of which I think, is defensive in case this doesn’t work out and he’s moved on yet again. In some ways I sympathised a lot with Michael – I wouldn’t take my kid that’s the same age on a cultural trip to Nice, visiting museums and the like. He would find it epically boring and probably drive me completely nuts the whole time. But I also sympathised with Noah, who is well aware that he’s coming towards the end of his life. He’s lost almost everyone around him that he cared about – his wife, his sister, his nephew, all gone. His father died young, he’s already outlived him age wise. He and his wife chose not to have children, his wife was very career orientated and they both chose to focus on that. For anyone, gaining surprise custody of an 11yo and all that entails, especially one that’s been through as much as Michael has, it would be incredibly daunting and difficult. For Noah, it’s not just about caring for Michael, it’s about learning what he is and what he likes, how to talk to him, how to communicate. How to break through that defensive barrier. They are from two completely different periods in time and a lot of the book seems to revolve around that disconnect, Noah’s frustration and Michael’s disdain. Which unfortunately for me, became quite frustrating to read. I got a bit sick of Michael and his attitude, I kept trying to make allowances for him but it just kept circling back to how rude he was to someone he didn’t even know. I felt for both of them really, Michael and the instability and uncertainty in his life, Noah and his views of a quiet retirement vanishing. But it just got tedious to read, especially when Michael kept running off on Noah and then acted like nothing ever happened.

This was okay. A lot of the stuff regarding the photos was interesting but for me the narrative got bogged down in the circular conversations between Noah and Michael which felt cliched and tired.


Book #173 of 2019

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