I’ve read a few books by Emma Donoghue and have enjoyed all of them, including Akin, Donoghue’s most recently published book.
The story starts with 79-year old Noah Selvaggio, a retired widower living in New York as he plans a trip to Nice in the South of France. Noah had lived in Nice with his mother as a small child and was very much looking forward to revisiting his former home when he received a request from Children’s Services to take on the care of his eleven-year old great-nephew Michael.
Noah already knew that Michael’s father had died and that his mother was in prison on drugs charges, but had assumed that Michael was being cared for by his grandmother, which had in fact been the case until her recent death. Although Noah was scheduled to leave for Nice in just a few days he was railroaded by Child Services into taking Michael temporarily to prevent him from being sent to foster care.
Noah found himself in the company of a child who didn’t want to be with him either, but he pressed on with his trip and after hurriedly arranging a passport for Michael, they travelled together to Nice.
Noah’s main reason for the visit was to investigate the meaning behind a mysterious set of photos that had been found amongst his mother’s belongings. The photos seemingly pointed to her having collaborated with the Nazis during their occupation of Nice in World War Two. Prior to the war Noah’s grandfather had been a famous photographer and Noah’s mother had been his assistant but mysteriously to Noah and his family, during the war she had insisted on staying in Nice with her father, despite Noah, his sister and their father having gone to America.
During their stay in Nice Michael constantly challenged Noah, sometimes irrationally and at other times with the intention of being deliberately perverse, but despite being difficult Michael’s intelligence shone through. He swore constantly, wasn’t particularly interested in anything that Noah had to say and ran rings around Noah in their negotiations over his behaviour, bedtime and how much junk food and fizzy drink he should have, but as the pair spent more time together Noah realised how much Michael actually needed him. I will say that in real life I wouldn’t have had as much patience with Michael as Noah did, but as Michael had been the victim of very difficult circumstances and knew his future was just as uncertain, his behaviour was certainly understandable.
I did think that Michael was probably far more clever than most children his age but I gave the author the benefit of the doubt on this point as Noah was himself a chemist and intelligence seemed to be a family trait.
Noah often heard the voice of his dead wife Joan offering him support and advice as he cared for Michael, just as she would have if she had still been alive. I liked this trait and felt comforted by it, and freely admit to occasionally hearing the voices of loved ones in my own head.
I enjoyed the theme of photography that ran through the story, from the selfies Michael constant took on his phone to the descriptions of the groundbreaking art of Noah’s grandfather’s work. I also enjoyed my armchair visit to Nice and learning a little about the area’s history. The story also showed how the 2016 terrorism attacks had changed the place and I felt gutted to learn of another attack just a few days after I finished reading Akin.
For the first time in ages, I felt totally immersed in my reading. Emma Donoghue fans will love Akin.