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3.8 13
by Diana Evans

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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. Two small furry creatures scurry through the night to their deaths--and are reborn as twins Georgia and Bessi. The middle daughters of Aubrey Hunter and his Nigerian wife, Ida, they occupy the attic room at 26a Waifer Avenue in London. When the twins are eight, the family takes a three-year sojourn in Nigeria, where they live a relatively grander life ("We had servants," Bessi later brags), but where Georgia has a terrifying run-in with a "ju-ju man" that changes her. The novel meanders as the girls grow, pausing to explore an intricate weave of childhood fantasy, African religion, nightmare, pop mythology and the intense inner world of identical twins. All the Hunters are drawn with care: hard-working Ida, who misses her mother so desperately that she converses with her daily in her head; hard-drinking Aubrey, whom liquor transforms into a Mr. Hyde; older sister Bel, rushing into adult sexuality; little Kemy, in love with Michael Jackson; and the twins, with their jokes, adventures and plans for a flapjack empire. This is a funny, haunting, marvelous debut. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her debut novel, already published in England to great acclaim, Evans draws deeply on her own experience as a twin. We first meet twins Bessi and Georgia Hunter-part Nigerian, part English-when they are two furry animals scrambling in a mythic prebirth forest. Crossing the road, they are hit by a car and so enter the world. Initially, this kind of mythopoetic vision feels odd, not so much esoteric as slightly contrived. But as it follows the twins throughout-as they discover boys and dream of building a flapjack empire-it becomes increasingly convincing, an effective means of conveying their unique bond. As they grow-together and apart-in their loft at 26a Waifer Avenue, London, a kind of nightmare creeps into their fairy-tale world; it is uncertain they will survive it. As Georgia comments to Bessi, "I don't think we were meant for this world." 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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Tania Barnes, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-The four sisters at 26 Waifer Avenue, in a somewhat shabby London neighborhood, must deal with their alcoholic English father and their spirit-talking Nigerian mother. Twins Bessi and Georgia Hunter create their own world in their attic room. Although their older and younger siblings are allowed to share in it occasionally, the bond between Bessi and Georgia goes beyond typical sisterhood, and the two cannot always determine where one ends and the other begins. While they are growing up, this is not such an issue, but as they approach adulthood, the conflict between separate interests and loyalty to one another becomes more pronounced. Yet even as Bessi tries to forge a distinct identity, and a heartbreaking secret of Georgia's threatens to come between them, they find that they cannot easily escape the oneness of their relationship. Evans's first novel brims with lyricism and mysticism. The author deftly captures the voices of all six family members as each one struggles with questions of identity. Meeting the topics of depression and suicide head-on, Evans treats these issues with a respect and grace that underscore the eventual triumph of spirit within the Hunter family.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Library System, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Mixed-race twins come of age in a London suburb. Half-English, half-Nigerian, Georgia and Bessi Hunter were born 45 minutes apart; and little has separated them since. In the attic of their home on Waifer Lane, they share dreams, a private language of thought and feeling and a pet hamster named Ham. Below, in their creaky house, their British father drinks and hangs pictures of the Dorset countryside, while their Nigerian mother wards off evil with wooden masks. Nothing seems to be able to make these parents remember how to love each other. Still, for all its hybrid fissures, the family hangs together: In colorful bursts, Evans's debut follows the twins through their early life in London, then to Nigeria and back again to London. The twins' older sister Bel falls for boys while younger Kemy grows Rastafari curls and idolizes Michael Jackson. The twins, meanwhile, tend to the roses in the garden and learn how to make flapjacks in home economics. While in Nigeria, both do cartwheels and chatter with their darker-skinned ancestors. Through two very different homelands, and the strange years of their adolescence, the twins' symbiotic relationship helps them navigate the odd "betweenness" of their lives. Yet as Georgia and Bessi grow, private tragedies threaten the bond they once had, until both are forced to cope with new and profound forms of isolation. As they struggle to find themselves, they are pulled apart by deep currents that will alter them forever. At once tender and funny: a keen study of home, homelessness and the limits of symbiosis.
ALA Booklist
“Evans’s lyrical telling . . . fluidly juxtaposes disparate worlds.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“A vivid, affectionate picture of the family as a melting pot.”
Daily Mail (London)
“Bittersweet . . . an alluring blend of fairytales and nightmares.”
Vancouver Sun
“Superb [and] quirkily rendered.”
Entertainment Weekly
“A heartwarming epic that’s never syrupy sweet. A-.”
“[A] poignant debut novel.. . . Perfect for your next book-club selection.”
“A trenchant debut that speaks eloquently about identity, displacement, the most anguished of losses, and bone-deep love.”
The Observer
“Enjoyable and engrossing . . . Evans has a distinctive voice.”
Boston Herald
“Beautiful . . . A very earthy and relatable tale of family bonds and fractures.”
Melbourne Herald Sun
“Beautiful . . . Evans is in a class of her own.”
New York Times Book Review
“Beautifully written.”
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
“[A] marvelously written novel . . . rich with both ordinary and extraordinary realities.”
London Sunday Times
“Funny, intimate and moving.”
Seattle Times
“Marvelously written . . . rich with both ordinary and extraordinary realities .”
Boston Globe
“Amazing. . . . 26A deserves to be read, and reread, by a large audience.”
Toronto Star
“A sad, magical telling of the uncommon link between Gemini sisters . . . enchanting.”
Sunday Times (London)
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2005 Orange Award for New Writers

“Rich and strange. . . . A funny, haunting, marvelous debut.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Beautifully written. . . . 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.”
The New York Times

“A poignant and moving first novel. . . . Evans creates an intricate world that begins and ends in room 26a – a world that reveals the careful balance required to sustain an intimate universe of two.”
The Globe and Mail

“Tender and evocative. . . . Sensual and poetic. . .powerful and uncompromising. . . . The lives of [Evans’] characters are governed by a quiet humour; her sensitivity to their perceptions creating unity in a narrative obsessed by halves and parts. . . . A mature, compelling and beautiful first novel.”

“Marvellously written. . . . Rich with both ordinary and extraordinary realities.”
The Seattle Times

“Enthralling from the first page, this bittersweet fusion of fairytales and nightmares is sugared by nostalgia and salted with sadness.”
Daily Mail (UK)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


By Diana Evans

Random House

Diana Evans
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385661215

Chapter One

The First Bit

Before they were born, Georgia and Bessi experienced a moment of indecision. They had been travelling 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 smelt 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 never be sure, and look at what the consequences might be (a little way up the road a bird lay glistening in its blood, feathers from its wing pointing stiffly up to the sky).

They crept to the roadside to get a closer look. Nothing coming at all. No engine thunder, no lights. It took a long time for Georgia to come round. OK then. Let's be quick, quicker than quick. Run, leap, fly. Be boundless, all speed. They stepped on to the road and shot forward, almost touching, and then the engine came, and for reasons beyond their reach, they stopped.

That was the memory that stayed with them: two furry creatures with petrified eyes staring into the oncoming headlights, into the doubled icy sun, into possibility. It helped explain things. It reminded them of who they were.

A slowness followed the killing. While their blood seeped into the road they experienced warmth, softness, wet. But mostly it was brutal. There were screams and a feeling of being strangled. Then a violent push and they landed freezing cold in surgical electric white, hysterical, blubbering, trying to shake the shock from their hearts. It was a lot to handle. Georgia, who was born first, forty-five minutes first, refused to breathe for seven minutes. And two and a half years later, still resentful, she was rushed back to St Luke's Hospital with dishcloth, carpet dust, half her afro and tassels off the bottom of the sofa clinging to her intestines. She'd eaten them, between and sometimes instead of her rice pudding and ravioli. The ordeal of it. Ida running around the house shouting Georgia's dying, my Georgia's dying! and the ambulance whisking her off and Bessi feeling that strange sinking back towards the road (which, when they were old enough to explore the wilderness of Neasden, they decided could well have been the North Circular that raged across the bottom of their street).

There is a photograph of them seated at a table in front of their third birthday cake, about to blow, three candle flames preparing to disappear. Georgia's arms are raised in protest of something forgotten and across her stomach, hidden, is the scar left over from where they'd slit her open and lifted out the hair and the living room carpet like bleeding worms and then sewed her back together. The scar grew up with her. It widened like a pale smile and split her in two.

As for Bessi, she spent her first human month in an incubator, with wires in her chest, limbs straggling and pleading like a beetle on its back. The incubator had a lot to answer for.

So Georgia and Bessi understood exactly that look in the eye of the hamster downstairs in the sunlounge. He was ginger-furred with streaks of white, trapped in a cage next to the dishwasher. What is it? the eyes said. Where am I? The view from the cage was a hamster-blur of washing machine, stacked buckets, breathless curtains and plastic bags full of plastic bags hanging from the ceiling like the ghosts of slaughter. People, giants, walked through from other parts of the house, slamming the door and setting off wind-chime bells. A sour-faced man with a morning tremble. A woman of whispers in a hair net, carrying bread and frozen bags of black-eyed beans.

What is it?

Feebly he poked at the plastic wheel in the corner, looking for motion, hoping for escape or clarity. And the explanation never came. It was deeper than needing to know what the wheel was for, where the cage had come from and how he'd got there, or in the twins' case, the meaning of 'expialidocious' or why their father liked Val Doonican. It was more of a What is Val Doonican? And therefore, What am I? The question that preceded all others.

The hamster was alone, which made it worse. Alone with a wheel on a wasteland of wood shavings and newspaper. Georgia and Bessi did everything they could; stuffed him with grapes and cleaned his mess, gave him a name. 'Ham,' Georgia said, her eyes level with Ham's because she was only seven, 'be happy some days or you might not wake up in the morning, isn't it. Here's a present.' She'd pulled a rose off the rose bush in the garden that was Her Responsibility (Aubrey had said so, and Ida had agreed -- so Kemy could shut up) and laid it, the ruby petals flat on one side, a single leaf asleep in the sun, on a saucer. She opened the cage and put the saucer next to Ham. He sniffed it and then was still again, but with a thoughtful look on his face that wasn't there before. Georgia thought that sometimes flowers were better for people's health than food. She often spent entire afternoons in the garden with a cloth, a spade and a watering can, wiping dirt off leaves, spraying the lawn with vigour, and pulling away the harmful weeds.

The twins lived two floors above Ham, in the loft. It was their house. They lived at 26a Waifer Avenue and the other Hunters were 26, down the stairs where the house was darker, particularly in the cupboard under the stairs where Aubrey made them sit and 'think about what you've done' when they misbehaved (which could involve breaking his stapler, using all the hot water, finishing the ginger nuts or scratching the car with the edge of a bicycle pedal). Other dark corners for thinking about what you've done were located at the rear of the dining room next to Aubrey's desk and outside in the garage with the dirty rags and white spirit.

Excerpted from 26A by Diana Evans
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Diana Evans has worked as a journalist and arts critic, contributing to Marie Claire, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, and The Independent. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies. She lives in London, England.

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26a 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a truly good, well-written book. Sure, at times its a little hard to get through, but so are many other coming-of-age books. It sounds cliche, but I laughed and cried, and would reccommend it to anybody, anywhere.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Althought I am not a literary of any means, I read this book for a book club (it was picked by another person). I continually got lost and the thoughts of the book appeared random. It was definitely a struggle to get through.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"26a" is a rare combination of Magical Realism and Historic Fiction... As one who lived in London during the times depicted, I can vouch for total authenticity. The sights and sounds of London and the surrounding suburbs are spot on. The Characters swiftly become dear Friends, whose trials and troubles bring one often to tears. I will always keep this Book, and I know I'll read it many times over.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not easy to get into. First chapter not interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the authors style of writing is definitely unique and interesting, however it can be very confusing at times. i found myself having to reread certain paragraphs because i just didn't get it the first time around. the symbolism used adds to all the confusion. this was definitely an interesting read but i think i'm going to have to read it again to fully grasp the story and appreciate the writing. i would recommend this book to others, just be patient while reading. it has a good concept and will leave you thinking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JessicaC More than 1 year ago
26A tells the story of two identical twin sisters, Bessi and Georgia Hunter. They have an intricate connection that existed even before their birth. The two sisters live with their younger sister, Kemy, who tries to fit in with the twins; Bella, or Mystic Bel, their older sister, who has psychic abilities; mother, Ida, who ran away from Nigeria to escape an arranged marriage; and their father, Aubrey, who has frequent angry spells as a result of his drinking.

The book starts with their birth, and continues to their early twenties. When the twins are young, they do everything together, and almost no one is let into the private world they live in. However, in a temporary move to Nigeria, Georgia experiences a traumatic event. She keeps this event a secret from everyone, especially Bessi. This begins the split between the two twins and Georgia¿s depression.

Later, Bessi leaves England, Georgia becomes increasingly depressed, and the twins grow farther apart. Her days are eventually categorized into colors; on certain colored days, it¿s hard to even buy milk.

At one point, Georgia realizes she wasn¿t made for this world, and makes the hardest decision of her life, causing devastation to her family and especially to Bessi. But, for the next year, the problem is solved; the Hunter family sees in their own eyes the truth in an old Nigerian legend told by the twins¿ grandfather.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It addressed some very serious issues while still maintaining a mystical quality. Diana Evans has an amazing writing technique that describes the feelings the twins feel in perfectly. I would recommend it to anyone looking for funny, yet sad book.