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A reader's guide to 26a

Updated Thursday, 1st January 2009

In Neasden, two girls share a loft, apparently alike - but not once you read more closely.

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We are starting the New Year with a title recommended by one of our forum contributors.

26a marked the debut of Diana Evans, a graduate of the University of East Anglia's Creative Writing MA programme. In 2005 her book won the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers.

The Road To Neasden Creative commons image Icon Swissdave under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license
The road to Neasden [Image: Swissdave under CC-BY licence]

Identical twins Georgia and Bessi Hunter are raised with their sisters, Bel and Kemy, and their ‘d’stressed’ hamster, Ham, at 26 Waifer Avenue, Neasden: a place ‘like the high heel at the bottom of Italy. It was what the city stepped on to be sexy.’

The twins have a room of their own in the loft, where ‘Girls with umbrellas skipped across the wallpaper and Georgia and Bessi could hear them laughing’.

 

Their sweet-toothed father Aubrey hails, appropriately, from Bakewell in Derbyshire, and their homesick mother, Ida, is Nigerian.

26a opens in a striking and innovative way, with a description of ‘two furry creatures with petrified eyes staring into the oncoming headlights’. A ‘slowness’ follows their killing, before a violent reincarnation takes place.

Swaminarayan Temple Complex in Neasden Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Public domain image by Mehul Sanghvi
Swaminarayan Temple Complex in Neasden

From the outset Bessi is a risk-taker, whilst Georgia is tentative. Although the girls ‘were the same, like dolls’, ‘twoness in oneness’, the narrator points out that the ‘real differences, the ones that mattered most, were inside, under clothes and in the soul’.

As the girls grow up, through the 1980s and 1990s, their differences are magnified: they discover that some things cannot be shared.

Evans’s novel has been praised for its humour and imagination, but the tragic climax is haunting.

 

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