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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

In the attic room at 26 Waifer Avenue, identical twins Georgia and Bessi Hunter share nectarines and forge their identities, while escaping from the sadness and danger that inhabit the floors below. But innocence lasts for only so long--and dreams, no matter how vivid and powerful, cannot slow the relentless incursion of the real world.

240 pages, Paperback

First published August 30, 2005

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About the author

Diana Evans

25 books294 followers
Diana Evans was born and brought up in London. Her bestselling debut novel, 26a, won the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers and the British Book Awards deciBel Writer of the Year prize. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel, the Guardian First Book, the Commonwealth Best First Book and the Times/Southbank Show Breakthrough awards, and nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Wonder, was also published to critical acclaim, described by The Times as ‘the most dazzling depiction of the world of dance since Ballet Shoes‘. Evans was nominated for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction for her third novel, Ordinary People, which was a New Yorker, New Statesman and Financial Times book of the year, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, and won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature. Her fourth novel, A House for Alice, is the highly acclaimed follow-up, for which she was again shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction. Evans is a former dancer, and her journalism, criticism and essays appear in among others Time Magazine, Vogue, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Review of Books and Harper’s Bazaar. She has been an associate lecturer in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. www.diana-evans.com

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5 stars
375 (22%)
4 stars
598 (36%)
3 stars
455 (27%)
2 stars
163 (9%)
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57 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 192 reviews
Profile Image for Amanda Bannister.
445 reviews10 followers
April 18, 2021
I really liked Diana Evans’ writing style in this one. I felt for the characters living at 26a, they are portrayed in a brutal, warts and all descriptive narrative, but almost in a dream like way at times. It does get progressively more difficult to read due to the subject matter, but I’m pleased I finished this one. I also liked The Wonder by the same author, although Ordinary People was a bit of a dud for me. Will I read more by this author if she releases a new book? Undecided at the moment.
Profile Image for Kat.
196 reviews18 followers
May 30, 2020
What a ride. The writing was amazing, the story fascinating, the characters highly likable and interesting - but it was SO depressing.

The first half of the book feels like a sweet coming-of-age story. Our main characters, two sometimes too-cute-to-be-true twins, grow up between London and Nigeria in a seemingly happy family. As the story progresses, however, we learn that everyone is fighting their own demons. The parents' marriage is broken as the mother is daydreaming of a better life back in Nigeria. The father turns to alcohol and the alcohol turns him into a violent monster. There are child pregnancy and sexual abuse. There are things that kids don't understand and with them comes sadness.

26a explains how experiences during our childhood determine who we become later. How a brief moment of incredible fear or sadness as a child can trigger anxiety as an adult. How everything around us shapes us, every relationship we witness, whether it is our own or someone else's, moves us towards ourselves. The book takes us on a journey, from that last moment of innocence, the moment when you stop being a child, to where we learn to accept that your world has changed forever.

We are there with the twins when they laugh, cry, have their first boyfriends, start feeling disconnected, become someone else, lose themselves and find hope again - but we only realise the full impact of those dark nights when it is already too late. We, as the reader, can trace their problems back to moments of abuse, of hate and loneliness, but we can also see how there is no going back. We know that, just because you know what went wrong, doesn't mean you can fix it.

The writing is outstanding, truly inspiring. Diana Evans is a highly skilled writer, guiding us through the story so beautifully. The pacing was great, the time we spend with each character is perfect. Yet, I found the second half of the book extremely depressing. I was contemplating whether I should stop reading although I really wanted to know how it ends because I just couldn't handle it. It was not sad in an "awww-this-is-so-sad"-way, it was completely and utterly depressing. It ruined my mood for about three days.

If you can deal with that, read 26a. It is a truly unique piece of literature. I might have had a few down-days but it has given me more than that, like a lesson or a message. An outstanding debut by Diana Evans, I'll make sure to read more of her work!
231 reviews37 followers
February 14, 2011
Disappointing. This is the second Orange Award book I have read, and I'm starting to wonder if my literary tastes are simply so American than I cannot share a British literary sensibility.

This dreamy, half-magical/half-brutal novel follows identical twins Bessi and Georgia from pre-birth to young adulthood. Their twin-bond is so powerful that it creates an idiosyncratic universe shared only by two; a source of joy and wonder at first, but later an increasing source of pain and wounds. Evans is a skillful writer who evokes the girls' dream-world with ease, and she is equally skilled at painting the real world they live in: their depressed mother, alcoholic father, the struggles of the small family. I wanted to like the book, because I liked things about it. But ultimately, the whole magical bond between the twins - the whole point of the novel - became simply tedious for me. I liked the characters less and less, and cared less and less about what happened to them; by the end, I was rolling my eyes. Never good.
Profile Image for Tijana.
326 reviews153 followers
July 9, 2019
I'll meet you by the evergreen tree.

I can't do this.
Re-read my childhood favorite book, that is.
I don't know how I did it back then.
My mind might have forgotten the plot, but my soul got crushed within the first few pages.
It remembered how it felt reading this all those years ago.
And I just can't do it again.
Profile Image for Shea.
Author 1 book4 followers
March 8, 2008
Hard to believe that this is Diana Evans first book. Her writing is beautiful and poetic without being pretentious. Excellent.
Profile Image for Marina.
373 reviews28 followers
April 12, 2018
Warning: this book will make you cry. If, like me, you listen to the audio version, you may cry in the street or on the train. That is, if you get as far as the upsetting bit….

This book has, perhaps, one of the best openings I’ve ever read. Starting so strong, it was almost inevitable that it would sag a little eventually. I did love the first part of the book, a story of an ordinary family in Northwest London in the 80’s – but at times I wondered if it was worth persisting, whether anything would actually happen or whether I could just say to myself ‘I enjoyed that but now I’m going to move on.’

Stick with it. It will make you cry.

Profile Image for Sarah.
481 reviews4 followers
March 24, 2013
It's always kind of an adventure to buy books from a rummage table because you never know what to expect.
This time I got a book about twins, their special bond, depression, family, wanderlust and some supernatural.
This book is written beautifully and I liked the way the depressions got described, especially by using colours and how the author used Mr. Hyde when talking about the dad's alcoholism.
The ending was a bummer but still it felt right somehow. Like there couldn't be another ending for the story.

So yes, I really liked that book.

195 reviews121 followers
May 29, 2014
This review first appeared on http://readingtheend.com.

Okay, it’s official. I have never, not ever, encountered a Nigerian or Nigerian-descended author who has never written about twins. If you have, drop a note in the comments. Twins are permanent residents of the Nigerian imagination. I like this fact. (In case you are not a podcast listener, Nigerians also have more twins. Than anyone else! We don’t know why, but it’s true, and it remains true even when IVF and other such things increase rates of multiple births in many Western countries.)

26a is about a family of four girls, daughters of a British father and a Nigerian mother, who live in a shabby bit of London. The oldest is Bel, Mystic Bel, who has true dreams; then come the twins, Bessi and Georgia, who do everything together; and finally the youngest, little Kemy. The book follows mainly Bessi and Georgia from the time they are seven (when their hamster dies, and they stop eating ham in tribute) into their increasingly (for Georgia) difficult and troubled adulthoods.

As a rule, I don’t enjoy these sorts of family-difficulties novels, but 26a won me over in a few different ways: first by Evans’s generosity with her characters, and then with her absolutely lovely writing. If perhaps she is overfond of metaphory poeticalness, she more than makes up for it in the way she talks about happiness and sadness, and about depression particularly.

I’m at work next to the filing cabinet and I’ve been thinking about happiness. Does it mean bouncing about and smiling a lot or is it that charge in the heart and wanting to cry? Does it stay always? . . . Because I’m beginning to think that happiness is a sensation, or a visitation, not a way of being. It goes up and down up and down it goes and sometimes there are bruises.

Y’all, that line happiness is a visitation hit me like a ton of bricks. That is a good line. Elsewhere, Georgia speaks about the kind of happiness you work at achieving — Georgia has to, anyway. Her twin sister, Bessi, does not have the same shadow in her that Georgia has, and happiness seems to come to her naturally.

She felt that nothing would ever hurt now, and that she might, after all, have the capacity for non-DIY happiness, the type of happiness that came by itself and could not be learnt from sources like [self-help books].

Or there’s this that Georgia’s therapist says:

Georgia sat back in her chair and her heels lifted off the floor. She said, “But how will I stop it from multiplying? How can I make it die?”

Katya told her it might never die, but with acceptance and good management it could be eased. “It is an endurance,” she said (endurance was a word Katya used a lot). “You overcome and chase it away, and you must be determined. You smash it to the floor. And if it is necessary you scream and tell it, I do not consent.“

Diana Evans writes about depression, basically, in much the way that depression feels (or has felt) to me. For instance, Georgia comes up with drills that she can run for when the days become bad, which again, damn, that sort of thinking has been so useful to me. (I called it protocols, but the notion was the same.)

26a is a sad, specific book. If you are not into this type of book (which I am not), its goodness depends on the specifics’ resonating with you. I can imagine it feeling sort of mystical airy-fairy if not. But for me, this was an excellent read by a first-time author, and I’m excited to read more by Diana Evans.
Profile Image for Lisa Fransson.
Author 12 books7 followers
April 19, 2016
I was taken with this book from page 1 with the two furry creatures scurrying through the undergrowth, being killed by a car and entering the world as the twins George and Bessie, who just don't belong. And who just can't tell if they are one or two. But they are not the only siblings in the family, there is also an older sister and a younger sister and the relationships between the four is comes across as heartbreakingly beautiful, as they grow up in a dysfunctional family, but nonetheless a family.
With ease I followed these girls wherever they went, meeting Gladstone in his mansion, meeting each other under the Evergreen tree and as they slept with the ghosts of Nigerian twins. Believing everything.
The only reason I don't give 26a five stars is that I only give five stars to books that leave me a different person from when I began reading a book.
In terms of writing, plot and engagement this is a five star novel. The language is evocative and poetic, and the story flows with twists and turns. And I did cry at the end.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
14 reviews
April 18, 2008
This book carried me through every possible emotion. I loved it. It follows the lives of a family made up of a white, British father, an African mother who has emigrated to England, and their biracial daughters: an eldest sister, twin middle sisters, and a youngest sister. The story focuses on the twins and their struggles, observations of the world around them, and the secrets of their inner world. Even though they're the focus, the author exposes the strengths, fears, and vulnerabilities of each family member. Great boo
Profile Image for Edwina Callan.
1,699 reviews49 followers
November 14, 2013
I loved the first half of this book and was all set to give a 5 star review, but then the author decided to jump on the crazy train and derailed herself and, sad to say, the second half of the book. She had done such an excellent job developing all of the characters and then, without warning, the book just starts to spin out of control. And, the ending ... what was that quick wrap-it-all-up-in-a-hurry ending all about ? Unless you enjoy books with really lame endings, I suggest you skip this book.
Profile Image for Andreea.
47 reviews3 followers
February 5, 2021
I think Diana Evans has the soul of a poet. This book is one where not a lot happens but the pleasure is in the rhythm of the language and the imagery - it’s haunting and lyrical. Evans is excellent with seamlessly blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Warning: if you’re not a fan of magical realism, this book is not for you.
4 reviews
July 27, 2022
I never heard of this book before, but I'm glad I finished it. Diana Evans' writing style is pretty unique and full of surprising metaphors and allegories.
The only issue I had with the story was how slowly it unfolded, the begging was a bit tough to get through, but it was worth every page of the wonderful book. I wish the biggest event wasn't mentioned in annotation, but for it the story wouldn't feel the way it does.
88 reviews1 follower
February 12, 2017
I thought this was a lovely book, well written with some beautiful phrases. I liked all of the four sisters - who bore a passing resemblance to Little Women - from tomboy/outspoken Kemy (Jo), grown-up/sensible Bel (Meg), slightly superficial and outgoing Bessi (Amy) to quiet, withdrawn Georgie (Beth). The sisters in this story as with Little Women really "make" the family as both parents are somewhat distant from the family unit - Mum, Ida, always longing for her homeland of Nigeria and dad, Aubrey, too inclined to his drunken rages to actually be present much of the time. The story follows the four girls, though mainly the twins - Georgia and Bessie - from their childhood through adolescence and into early adulthood. Much about the story made me smile, the main characters were warm and believable, and a fair bit made me sad too. I especially found the gradual deterioration of Georgia's mental state very upsetting and it actually made me feel quite anxious reading it!
Unlike other reviews I didn't find the ending abrupt or rushed, for me it was poignant and touching.
9 reviews
August 5, 2007
Well-written book about the relationship of very different twin girls growing up in England in the '80s. They live with parents from different cultures (English and African)and younger sisters. I enjoyed this book a lot; felt empathy for all.
Profile Image for reqbat.
225 reviews6 followers
October 7, 2010
Couldn't get into this, really did not like her voice/style at all.
205 reviews13 followers
May 20, 2018
This book started sad and remained sad. I did enjoy it though, the writers style was lively carrying me through environments I did not and places I did know. A story of a dysfunctional family, and twins, the connection between and the separation of. Plenty of reality mixed with the supernatural all leading to an extremely sad ending
Profile Image for Yvonne.
51 reviews6 followers
June 15, 2019
After reading Evans‘ /Ordinary People/ and loving it, I decided to read her first novel. What a debut! Such a rich, sad but also joyfull story, delicately composed and absolutely capturing. Her idea of entangled being is so beautiful, I am sure the story will stay with me for quite some time.
Profile Image for Ian Place.
4 reviews
November 11, 2020
This is Diana Evans' debut novel and is the story of identical twins growing up in North London
Funny and memorable the story beautifully captures the relationship between the twins and how they evolve as they grow up
Great writing and highly recommended
47 reviews
June 13, 2018
This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime books. It creates a sort of magical world within the real world, spins a story that's almost an epic. It speaks to the heart of mental illness without ever saying the words.
Profile Image for Zahra Meghji.
7 reviews
August 1, 2021
It took me a minute to get into but overall this story was beautifully written though very sad at points, I would recommend it
Profile Image for Afroqueen1904.
113 reviews8 followers
July 7, 2019
I have to say Diana Evans is a great writer but I just found the second part of the book tedious.
Profile Image for JK.
904 reviews52 followers
November 2, 2018
This was absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking in equal measures. Evans skilfully explores the twin bond using a perfect blend of magical realism. Her prose is beautiful, her characters perfect, and her story utterly gut-wrenching.

Georgia and Bessi were born 45 minutes apart to an English father and a Nigerian mother. Although born in England, we see them grow in both the suburbs of London and in Lagos. Evans contrasts the cities, and the emotional effects they have on the twins, starkly, and this impact is one of the main drivers to the overall tragedy of the novel.

I adored each and every one of these characters purely for their rawness, their struggles, and how each of them rub against each other, creating sparks. The father is an alcoholic, forcing the mother and the girls to tiptoe around him, unsure of how he will react to a messy house, a cold dinner, or any other aspect of life which seems out of place. The mother is homesick for Lagos, poisoned by depression, and filled with regret. The oldest sister rebels, the youngest can’t work out her role in the family. And the twins, oh my heart, the twins.

The most important message from the story is that of how childhood can mould us irrevocably; how one single event, however minor, can have debilitating effects on us in later life. It’s bleak, and it’s horrible, but it’s so true to life. I felt Evans dealt with it perfectly; the red days, the yellow days, the unable to leave the house days. How others can’t understand why it can be so bloody difficult to drag yourself down to the shop for a bottle of milk.

Towards the end of the novel, things became incredibly mystic, and strange. I didn’t dislike this, although I’m now reading many did. I interpreted this in two ways, and I am yet to decide which one I prefer. I like the folk story the twins’ Nigerian grandfather told them, and I liked the way they reacted to it. For this to come true for them in the end was, I felt, poignant and fitting. Alternatively, this could be viewed purely as an eventual coping mechanism, which is also a perfect conclusion. Both meanings running parallel, for me, really underline Evans’ skill for weaving her magical realism throughout the pages and the lives of the family.

Finally, after finishing the novel, I did some frantic Googling to find more information on Evans; for the main part, trying to find some of her other work. What I found was so akin to the plot of 26a, it was painful. I am so sorry, and I can understand why this book is so well crafted.

A complete masterpiece of words, I would (and will) urge anyone to read this. Beautiful, real, and utterly agonising.
Profile Image for Melissa Andrews.
223 reviews
December 18, 2008
I thought this book had really good potential. It was actually pretty good at some points describing the individual lives of each of the family members and their various quirks. I couldn't get into the whole 'spiritual lives' stuff, and I didn't like the way the end played out.

I thought the author did an excellent job of describing Georgia's depression and her moods. I also liked the way Mr. Hyde was used to talk about Aubrey's alcoholism.

I listened to this book as an audiobook, so several parts were really enjoyable - the author did a good job of setting the scenes: the scene with the cockroach man (can't remember his name right now) and Georgia; the scene with the girls in the candy aisle at the store; and the scene where Ida attacked Aubrey with the knife.

Kimmy (not sure if that's how her name is spelled in the book) was a great sub-character; loved the way she loved Michael Jackson. Also liked the correspondence between the girls when Bessie went to St. Lucia.

I couldn't understand how, after Ida displayed so much 'gumption' by running away from home, she got to England and just disappeared into herself.

I thought the way the author dealt with the family's reaction's to the cockroach man (why can't I remember his name???) was realistic. It seems that a lot of the time in families where a child is molested, people have a 'sense' that something is wrong, but they just never follow up on it. Why did it take years for Belle to confront Georgia about what happened in the garden? Why did no one question why all of a sudden bubbly, confident Georgia suddenly became clumsy and awkward. Ida's comment - "That's Georgia" - was right on. Then they did the same thing when Georgia was older and started displaying signs of depression. Everyone knew something was wrong but no one really did anything about it. Part of that is probably attributed to the fact that so many families are unaware of depression and how it can affect people.

I didn't like how the end dealt with Georgia and Bessie. I felt we could have gotten more about how Bessie felt instead of Georgia inside Bessie (but I did say that I didn't like the whole spiritualism piece, so I guess that's why that bothered me).

I found this accidentally at the library and picked it up to see if I would recommend it for my book club. Unfortunately, though it was good at times, I don't think I will.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Francesca Pashby.
1,016 reviews8 followers
December 6, 2018
I can't really explain this one, but it broke my heart. The magic of twins (I always wanted to be one), London, being brave. Wonderful, almost poetic writing too. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for E.The.Bookworm.World.
103 reviews16 followers
April 16, 2021
Czy zdarzyło Ci się czytać książkę, w której wątki z opisu dzieją się pod koniec ponad 400 stronicowej pozycji? To była długa przeprawa!
Zapowiadało się świetnie, bo akcja powieści rozgrywa się w Londynie, w wielokulturowej społeczności, zahaczając o skomplikowane relacje rodzinne. Brzmiało trochę jak „Białe Zęby” Zadie Smith, a wiadomo, że jak tylko książka dotyka podobnych tematów to lecę do niej jak ćma do światła. W tym przypadku niestety się sparzyłam.
26a to numer pokoju, w którym dorastają Georgia i Bessie — nierozłączne bliźniaczki, które pomimo identycznego wyglądu zewnętrznego różnią się bardzo pod względem charakterów. W opisie książki pojawiają się zdania „[Bliźniaczki] nie wyobrażają sobie życia w pojedynkę i rozdzielenia swoich celów życiowych. Jednak pewnego dnia owładnięta depresją Georgia popełnia samobójstwo. Czy Bessie poradzi sobie w życiu w pojedynkę? Jak zrekompensuje sobie brak siostry?”. Brzmi mrocznie i ciekawie tylko, że to jak „Bessie poradzi sobie w życiu w pojedynkę” opisane jest w około 30 ostatnich stronach książki, co strasznie psuje przyjemność z czytania, gdyż ja złapałam się na tym, że wyczekiwałam śmierci Georgi przez prawie całą książkę!
Coś tu poszło bardzo źle, a szkoda, bo bez spojlerów w opisie pozycja ta mogłaby być bardzo przyjemną lekturą.
Profile Image for Hannah.
212 reviews17 followers
February 14, 2018
Read this because of a review on Reading the End blog and thought it might be my sort of thing.
It's all empty cleverness and distant characterisation.
Why do authors study Creative Writing? Every time a prose style irritates me, I read the author bio and it turns out they have an MA in Creative Writing. I shall start reading about the author first and ruling out any new authors who have studied Creative Writing.
Dear authors, when reading I want to be so close to a character I get into their skin. I do not want your pretentious distance. And this may be slightly unfair, because I gather the author is herself a twin and may be drawing on real experience. (A quick google tells me the novel is very much based on her life growing up, so the unreadability baffles me.)

Just wasn't what I wanted or expected, though I usually enjoy family stories about sisters.
For fluffy reading about twins; Racing the Moon by Terri Prone
Sisters and issues in Africa; The Poisonwood Bible
Losing a twin and magical realism; Among Others
Classic story of four sisters; Little Women
Fun family stories; Hilary McKay
Profile Image for Sonia Gomes.
317 reviews94 followers
January 5, 2010
Started off on a good footing, the story of a family, essentially the story of a pair of twins, of mixed origins, African and English. A dysfunctional family which is financially sound. The father 'Mr. Hyde', however, is dominating, much like the plantation owners.
On a trip to Nigeria, one of the twins, is nearly raped by their watchman. She never gets over it and just slides down into an abyss of no hope, the other twin who did show great promise of being an independent young woman, comes back to 'save' her twin from her despair.
The end is messy, Georgia (twin who nearly got raped) gets more and more depressed and ultimatelly commits suicide and the other twin Bessi just gets ill and more ill and and 'joins' the other sister.
I think the concept of the bond between twins is taken to new, unwanted proportions.
The book just slides down after the 'attempted' rape and never shows and promise of being ressurected
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kirsty Darbyshire.
1,091 reviews51 followers
December 5, 2021
I adored this. I read Ordinary People by the same author a while ago and wanted to read more of Diana Evans work after that.

This is the story of twins, Georgia and Bessi, growing up, mostly in London but with a spell with their mother's family in Nigeria, in the 1980s and 1990s. They were about the same age as me so the cultural nostalgia was strong here. I loved all the details, the lives of the twins and their family are very vivid. The end of the book gets very sad and had me in tears, but the whole thing somehow managed to be delightful despite that.
Profile Image for Poornima Vijayan.
331 reviews16 followers
October 24, 2017
I picked this book off a 'cheap book sale' without really having heard anything about it. And I loved it. Georgia and Bessi, identical twins born in the UK, the obsession with Royalty (I was amazed though I shouldn't much be) and the scarring incident of a visit and the subsequent helplessness. Of going to a place that was home, but you never really have been. A Nigerian mother and an English father, a family life narrated so beautifully that as an outsider you completely enjoy the voyeurism it offers.

Dialogues are witty and perceptive and well worth a read, this book about loss and longing is.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 192 reviews

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