In the latest from the author of Room, a retired New York professor named Noah has his life thrown into chaos when he becomes caretaker to his young great-nephew, Michael. When the two travel to the French Riviera in hopes of learning more about their family history, mysteries develop surrounding Noah's mother's wartime secrets and the death of Michael's father.
Donoghue nails not only the class differences but the generational impasse: the adult who cannot grasp the extent to which society has broken; the child who has never known it to be otherwise ... And so it’s unfortunate that Michael seems less like a real person than a collection of attitudes, even after his sharp eye and technical savvy prove useful in helping Noah probe the mystery of a cache of 1940s-era photos Noah found among his late mother’s possessions ... As this historical subplot gains momentum, the past becomes more compelling than Noah’s present-day relationship with Michael, which somehow lacks an emotional charge ... What begins as a larky story of unlikely male bonding turns into an off-center but far richer novel about the unheralded, imperfect heroism of two women — Michael’s incarcerated mother and Noah’s long deceased one — and the way we preserve the past and prepare for the future.
If Room was a horror novel laced with sweetness, Akin is a sweet novel laced with horror ... Yes, this odd-couple situation is contrived, but it’s also continuously charming ... Donoghue, a mother herself, has a perfect ear for the exasperated sighs of preteens ... offers little in the way of plot. Instead, “Akin” is true to the quiet investment of time needed to win a child’s trust. The movement here is the slow accrual of affection ... For us, the reward stems from Donoghue’s ability to wring moments of tenderness and comedy from this mismatched pair of relatives who never crossed paths in their own country.
Emma Donoghue has written the perfect novel to ease the transition from beach reads to the traditionally more serious issue-driven books of fall ... The first third of Akin drags somewhat while Donoghue sets up [an] elaborate plot...but once in France, the novel soars ... the overall tone remains hopeful. Akin makes for an intriguing trip to Nice for the armchair traveler who is not quite ready for the summer to end.