Summary and book reviews of 26a by Diana Evans

26a
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2005,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2006,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

A hauntingly beautiful, wickedly funny and
devastatingly moving novel of innocence
and dreams that announces the arrival of
a major new talent to the literary scene

The attic room at 26a Waifer Avenue in the lower-middle-class London neighborhood of Neasden is a sanctuary for identical twins Georgia and Bessi Hunter. It is a private universe where fantasy reigns as well as an escape from the sadness and danger that inhabit the floors below. Here the girls share nectarines and forge their identities -- planning glorious success as the Famous Flapjack Twins -- well removed from their Nigerian mother, Ida, who, devastated by homesickness, speaks to the spirits of the family she left behind on another continent. On occasion Georgia and Bessi's older sister, Bel, and younger sister, Kemy, are admitted into their broad, bright and fanciful realm, but never their English father, who nightly bathes the wounds of his own upbringing in far too much drink.

But innocence lasts for only so long -- and dreams, no matter how vivid and powerful, cannot slow the relentless incursions of the real world. Bel's transition into womanhood brings a very grown-up problem into the house that cannot be pretended away. Kemy's entire existence is redefined overnight by seductive pop-star glitter. And a terrible secret begins to threaten the twins' utopia, setting them on divergent paths toward heartrending resolutions in a world of separateness and solitude.

A work of bold, lyrical beauty, telling detail and compelling characterization -- at once cheerful and thoughtful, playful and profound -- and written in a unique prose style that metamorphoses brilliantly with the passage of time, 26a will surely be one of the most-talked-about novels of this year and many years to come, and its remarkable author, Diana Evans, welcomed gratefully into the highest order of literary achievement.

1
Ham

BEFORE THEY WERE BORN, Georgia and Bessi experienced a moment of indecision. They had been traveling through the undergrowth on a crescent moon night with no fixed destination and no notion of where they were, whether it was a field in Buckinghamshire, the Yorkshire Dales or somewhere along the M1 from Staples Corner to Watford. Night birds were singing. The earth smelled of old rain. Through scratchy bramble they scurried, through holes that became warm tunnels and softly lit underground caves. Their paws pressed sweet berries in the long grass and they sniffed each other's scent to stay together. Soon they began to sense that they were coming to a road. One of those huge open spaces of catastrophe where so many had perished. Squirrels smashed into the tarmac. Rabbits, badgers, walking birds—murdered and left for the flies. Bessi thought they should risk it and cross, there was nothing coming for miles. But Georgia wasn't sure, because you could ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In this haunting tale of innocence lost, Diana Evans evokes, with unforgettable vividness, the wonders and terrors of childhood and growing up. Identical twins Bessi and Georgia Hunter create a private universe in the attic room at 26a Waifer Avenue in a drab, lower-middle-class section of London. Here they sit back to back when making important decisions and hatching dreams (will their parents get divorced? how will they create their flapjack empire?) and share an intimacy, a mystical sense of connection, that they feel will bind them forever. But theirs is not an innocence immune to the tensions arising from their Nigerian mother's distracted nostalgia for the home she left behind and their British father's drunken rages...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

If you've enjoyed books that explore the 'tug-of-war between dueling identities' such as Monica Ali's Brick Lane or Zadie Smith's White Teeth, you're likely to find much to enjoy about 26a.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - Ligaya Mishan

Only late in the book, when a rupture finally occurs, does Evans rise again to the mythic voice of the beginning, and propel the story to its harrowing and unexpected end. It's worth the wait. For, as it turns out, Evans's true subject is at once more familiar and more exotic than England or Nigeria. She allows us a glimpse into the lost country of childhood, of which we have all been citizens and to which we can never return.

Boston Herald

Beautiful . . . A very earthy and relatable tale of family bonds and fractures.

New York Times Book Review

Beautifully written . . . [Evans] allows us a glimpse into the lost country of childhood, of which we have all been citizens and to which we can never return.

Boston Globe

26A deserves to be read, and reread, by a large audience . . . Evans deftly balances comedy and tragedy, unfloding her story in vivid patchwork pieces that come together to form a bittersweet family portrait, splashed with brilliant images.

Library Journal - Tania Barnes

Evans's language can be uneven, veering toward the precious or the strange, but she can also turn a haunting, perfect phrase. A promising debut from a young author with much yet to offer.

Kirkus Reviews

Evans's language can be uneven, veering toward the precious (two characters make "butterly love") or the strange, but she can also turn a haunting, perfect phrase. A promising debut from a young author with much yet to offer.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. From the very beginning of Evan's first novel (winner of Britain's inaugural Orange Award for New Writers), readers know they're in for something rich and strange.....This is a funny, haunting, marvelous debut.

Booklist - Jennifer Mattson

Starred Review. Evans should earn accolades for this trenchant debut, which speaks eloquently about identity, displacement, the most anguished of losses, and bone-deep love.

Daily Mail (London)

Bittersweet . . . an alluring blend of fairytales and nightmares.

Melbourne Herald Sun

Beautiful . . . Evans is in a class of her own.

Reader Reviews
Marilyn

A magical, haunting, engrossing tale of identity, loss, and yearning
I read at least 2 novels a week, but only rarely have I finished a book and immediately reread it from beginning to end....This is one of those exceptional books. It hooked me from the first paragraph. If you like fiction that is deep, thought-...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Diana Evans is a graduate of the University of East Anglia's Creative Writing MA, and lives in London.  She has published short fiction in a number of anthologies, has worked as a journalist and arts critic for several magazines in the United Kingdom, and writes regularly for the Independent and Stage. She recently won the 2005 Orange Prize for New Writers for 26a (The Orange Prize for Fiction, supported by the Arts Council England, has been awarded annually for 10 years but last year was the first year...

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