I loved Room – and when I saw this one available at Netgalley, I immediately requested it, delighted to be approved to read it…
BLURB: 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…
I immediately found myself bonding with dear old Noah, who still regularly spoke to his dead wife and heard her answers in his head, as he is confronted with this spiky eleven-year-old reeling from the loss of the grandmother who was looking after him, while his mother is in jail. I understood and sympathised with Noah’s reluctance to get involved – he’d broken his heart over the boy’s father, the beautiful nephew Victor, who had taken gifts from his doting aunt and uncle and sold them for drugs. Why would he want to get tangled up in this mess? And the answer comes back that at seventy-nine years old, he is the only relative willing to take the boy on and keep him out of the state childcare system – and all that entails.
So he does… There isn’t so much a generation gap as a yawning chasm between the two of them. Add in the mix of whisking the boy off to Nice, on a long-planned holiday to explore the city of Noah’s birth and further investigate the life of his mother and famous photographer grandfather – and the result is a chaotic negotiation of rules in amongst unfamiliar surroundings and a different time-zone. Noah constantly is brought up short at Michael’s laconic, sharp-edged responses to places he has been raised to revere.
What I loved about Noah, is that it would have been all too easy for him to have become aggravated and hostile to Michael’s constant button-pressing and pushing for boundaries. But he tries to take into account the boy’s trauma as he copes with his foul-mouthed responses and wall of insolence as the child retreats into games and screens. Every so often he snaps and there are fireworks, which I felt were very convincing. But Donoghue manages to portray the shifting dynamic within their relationship as Noah tries to accommodate Michael’s needs, while the boy gets used to having to cope with yet another adult in his life, who is only a temporary haven anyway.
Unspooling in the middle of this relationship, are Noah’s discoveries about his mother. I’ll be honest, there seemed to be an awful lot of joining the dots with some very flimsy evidence regarding this small handful of photographs his mother had taken in Nice during the war years. But I’ll give her a pass on this one, as I think Donoghue did manage to make it work – just about. All in all, this was a delightful, poignant read, interlaced with some very funny moments. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading family dramas in quirky settings. The ebook arc copy of Akin was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.