Identical twins Bessi and Georgia live at 26a Waifer Avenue. The loft there, ‘a place of beanbags, nectarines and secrets’, is their private space. Downstairs live their older and younger sister, their faraway Nigerian mother and their shy, tightly wound father, who is both Jekyll and Hyde. The book spans the twins’ lives from the womb to their twenties and family life spreads through the book like a tree, setting down roots, branching out in places you don’t necessarily expect.
There is such an immediacy in Diana Evans’ writing. You are there. You can smell the fading strawberry smell of the beanbag, you can taste the promise in the teenage air. The book is a fascinating exploration of the nature of being a twin. You are one person and yet you are not. Differences work their way into the cracks of Bessi and Georgia’s lives. Georgia is fatter, Bessi is louder. The novel expands as the girls stretch and grow to meet their destinies.
If you’re a Zadie Smith fan you will devour this book but watch out for a darker more jagged edge to Evans’ writing. It’s interesting that the author herself is a twin. The twins in her book learn later than other people that everyone has to walk their own path in the end. Twin-ness gives the illusion of a living mirror, of someone who is genuinely, symbiotically yours, but in the end Bessi and Georgia fracture like everyone else.
The book is immensely readable – the style is easy and enjoyable – so much so that the sadness of the story crept up on me. When things changed for the twins I was as unprepared as they were. I sympathised with their bewilderment at the world. 26a is a hymn to the simplicity of childhood and the sibling bond, before the world comes in, before we start making choices and mistakes, and narrowing down the field of our lives until we wonder how we chose this path in the first place. Diana Evans asks her readers whether it is even something we choose. Do we become who we are by degrees, by a series of random strokes of luck?
The fascinating thing with the twins in this book is that you can see the different impressions the world makes on them in an unusual way, because of their original oneness. 26a is a book about the baggage we all pick up at some point in our lives; it’s about how some of us pick up more than others and how sometimes it can be difficult to carry.
I finished the book weeks ago now and I’m still carrying the twins around in my head a little bit. 26a is thought-provoking, lively and gripping, a novel about the way the world in our heads collides with the world as it is. It deals with the disintegration of innocence, of endless opportunities; it deals with loss. It’s about growing up, its pleasure and its pains, its certainties and all its unwanted shocks. Diana Evans has got some serious talent.