BookBrowse Reviews 26a by Diana Evans

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26a by Diana Evans
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 304 pages

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A hauntingly beautiful, wickedly funny and devastatingly moving novel of innocence and dreams. First novel

From the book jacket: 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.

Comment: 26a had garnered considerable praise in other English speaking markets before it was published in the USA last year, with descriptions such as 'bittersweet . . . an alluring blend of fairytales and nightmares'.  The USA reviews were equally enthusiastic with a few minor quibbles, such as the reviewer for Library Journal who felt that "Evans's language can be uneven, veering toward the precious or the strange" but goes on to acknowledge that "she can also turn a haunting, perfect phrase".  Both Publishers Weekly and Booklist give it starred review status and the often hard to please Kirkus Reviews concludes that it is "at once tender and funny: a keen study of home, homelessness and the limits of symbiosis."  

When asked about her book in a recent interview, Evans replied, "Twin-ship, and by association, two-ness, is at the heart of 26a. I wanted to try and encapsulate what it was like, how it felt to be a twin, to have this other person in your life who was also, in a way, your other self existing outside of you, in another body; and the access this gave you to a kind of extra dimension to life that meant you experienced everything with double impact. At the same time, the book is also about the conflicts that arise in such a relationship when the notion of individuality becomes more and more alluring, and necessary, as you grow older."

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.  As always, don't take my word for it, instead browse an extensive excerpt for yourself, in this case the first 17 pages - exclusively at BookBrowse.

Did you know? Almost up until the time the book was finished Evans planned on calling it Seraph, but decided that was too ethereal, so she changed it to The Best Bit, but her agent was dubious, and suggested 36a - as that was originally the name of the twin's house.  Then they realized that 36a, being a bra size, might lead people to misconstrue the nature of the book, so the house, and the title became 26a!

This review was originally published in November 2005, and has been updated for the September 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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