26a by Diana Evans
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.
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.