26a by Diana Evans26a by Diana Evans


byDiana Evans

Paperback | June 27, 2006

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From a stunning new voice, a debut novel that, like Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Monica Ali's Brick Lane, confronts the multi-racial realities of modern Britain with humour, grace, and lyrical intensity.

Identical twins Georgia and Bessi live in the loft of 26 Waifer Avenue in Neasden, London. It is their place, one of strawberry-scented beanbag chair, a view of the apple trees, and very important decisions, and all visitors must knock on the door marked 26a before entering.

Downstairs is a less harmonious world: Ida, the twins’ Nigerian mother, puts cayenne pepper on Yorkshire pudding and can only assuage her bouts of desperate homesickness with five-hour baths and long conversations in Edo with her own absent mother; Aubrey, their Derbyshire-born father, shouts “Haddock!” in frustration with his house full of women, and angrily roams the streets of Neasden to escape his demons. Older sister Bel discovers sex, high heels, and organic hairdressing, and baby sister Kemy is obsessed with Michael Jackson. The twins plan their own flapjack empire as the ticket to a shining future for two.

But as Georgia and Bessi grow up, discovering the temptations and dangers of London in the 1980s and 90s, the realities of separateness and of solitude crowd in. Each must decide on her own path to adulthood and pursue it — and discover if she can face the future as only one.

Wickedly funny and devastatingly moving, 26a is part fairytale, part nightmare. It moves from the mundane to the magical, the particular to the universal with exceptional flair and imagination. It is for everyone who remembers their childhood, and anyone who knows what it is to lose it.

On the outside of their front door Georgia and Bessi had written in chalk ‘26a,’ and on the inside ‘G&B,’ at eye level, just above the handle. This was the extra dimension. The one after sight, sound, smell, touch and taste where the world multiplied and exploded because it was the sum of two people. Bright was twice as bright. All the colours were extra. Girls with umbrellas skipped across the wallpaper and Georgia and Bessi could hear them laughing.
—Excerpt from 26a

From the Hardcover edition.
Diana Evans is a graduate of the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA and has published short fiction in a number of anthologies. She has worked as a journalist and arts critic for several magazines in the United Kingdom, and writes regularly for the Independent and Stage. Evans lives in London.From the Hardcover edition.
Title:26aFormat:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 7.9 × 5 × 0.9 inPublished:June 27, 2006Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385661223

ISBN - 13:9780385661225

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Read from the Book

The First BitIHamBefore 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.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. 'There were thoughts with bows and thoughts without.' Can you find other examples of where the twins' own thoughts are invested with the life and persona of the twins' own outward appearances? What is the effect of this narrative technique? Do you like it, and do you find it a unique way of writing?2. Discuss the significance of the characters' time in Sekon, and how it impacts on the rest of their lives. Did you find that Evans' use of colours to tell her story changed in any way after this time?3. How important is magical realism as a technical device for Evans to tell her story? Find some examples of this technique and consider why they are significant to the novel.4. How necessary is a belief in mythology or mysticism to your enjoyment of this novel?5. 'It was the first time ever, in this land of twoness in oneness, that something had seemeed unsayable.' Discuss what impact the 'cartwheel' incident with Sedrick has on the twins' relationship.6. Consider the role of dreams in the novel.

Editorial Reviews

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.” —TLS “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)