26a by Diana Evans
Published by Vintage Digital in 2009
My copy: Overdrive digital library
Identical twins, Georgia and Bessi, live in the loft of 26 Waifer Avenue. It is a place of beanbags, nectarines and secrets, and visitors must always knock before entering. Down below there is not such harmony. Their Nigerian mother puts cayenne pepper on her Yorkshire pudding and has mysterious ways of dealing with homesickness; their father angrily roams the streets of Neasden, prey to the demons of his Derbyshire upbringing. Forced to create their own identities, the Hunter children build a separate universe. Older sister Bel discovers sex, high heels and organic hairdressing, the twins prepare for a flapjack empire, and baby sister Kemy learns to moonwalk for Michael Jackson. It is when the reality comes knocking that the fantasies of childhood start to give way. How will Georgia and Bessi cope in a world of separateness and solitude, and which of them will be stronger?
I struggled with this book to begin with, and even now I have finished it I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. The style of writing is quite unusual and takes some getting used to, and some sections are a bit surreal. It also flits from character to character so it was hard to keep up for a while. However there were aspects of the story I really enjoyed.
The family in the book is one with a lot of conflicts. Mum Ida is Nigerian and has married an English man, and they have four daughters, two of whom are twins. One section gives us Ida’s back story, which I really enjoyed, and we also find out how life in North London is difficult for both her and her husband in various different ways. At one point the whole family travels back to Nigeria for three years, and I again enjoyed this section of the book and I felt this was where the characters started to come alive. I liked the contrasts with life in London, and I actually would have liked more of this aspect of the novel. It is also events that happen in Nigeria that are central to the rest of the story.
At the heart of the novel are the two twins, Georgia and Bessi, and these characters grow and develop through the course of the novel. You get such a good feeling of their closeness and bond – yet ultimately they are different people and this really becomes apparent as the novel progresses. These characters and their relationship with each other were really well portrayed. I also liked the references to music and places that gave the novel a very authentic sense of time and location.
There was much I liked about this book, but overall I did feel that it fell short in some ways. I found it difficult to get into and some sections did seem to drag somewhat. Also the Overdrive version I had was littered with spelling errors which did drive me to distraction at times. The book didn’t feel very polished to me and I was surprised it had won various awards as parts of it didn’t always work very well. I did finish the book with a sense that it could have delivered so much more – there was a really strong, moving story here but it never really came together for me.