Diana Evans, a graduate of the University of East Anglia's Creative Writing MA has published short fiction in a number of anthologies but '26a', published in 2005, was her first novel. I think it is brilliant.
Cover design - relevant to the story - by Paul Catherall
Bessi and Georgia are twins and on the outside of their front door (the loft of 26 Waifer Avenue, London) they 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. It is here in the loft, on their deciding beanbags, that the idea of a flapjack empire is born. The rest of the Hunter family are less harmonious. Their Nigerian mother puts cayenne pepper on her Yorkshire pudding while their Derbyshire-born father angrily shouts at the world. Older sister Bel finds sex, high heels and organic hairdressing while younger sister Kemy moonwalks for Michael Jackson.
Roving, often within a sentence, from wickedly funny to devastatingly moving the growing-up process of the twins and their sisters is never without incident. This is my Book of the Year.
Such is the skill of the characterisation and imagery that I feel like I want to quote from each and every page. A small selection will have to suffice....
During their parents' wedding -
'Tokhokho,' Ida said to the vicar as he struggled with the three staccato, fearless, perfect Os. 'Er, yes,' said the vicar' 'To-cocoa'. He couldn't do it. Irritation feathered his nostrils (he'd missed his breakfast and resented Saturday afternoon weddings because it meant he missed the horse riding). And it didn't matter anyway. The name was about to be lost, sent drifting out to sea on a raft made of yesterday.
Of Charles and Diana's wedding -
Their lips shake hands. It is sealed. She belongs to him and he belongs to his mother.
Arriving in Nigeria -
Soft-voiced, he said 'Welcome, welcome,' and immediately, fourteen and panda-eyed, Bel fell in love... They followed him to the carriage: a blond Mercedes parked in the shade of a coconut palm. The mercedes had silver beams along the sides, a silver ballerina at the tip of the bonnet and the headlights were smooth blazed sockets of crushed ice.
On getting drunk -
Aubrey was knocking back syrup to wash the day, and telling Jim about how you worked for thirty years of your life and what for eh? ... Aubrey's head was starting to dance. A waltz. He took its arm and let it lead. Into the empty glass he disappeared - and from the murky bottom, Mr Hyde was rising.
When the younger sister moves out -
The old man drove his youngest girl across London to the other side of childhood.
On 'Noticings' -
Ham had passed away on 30th September 1980. Bessi had forgotten the date but Georgia never had. It was not an anniversary, because anniversaries were for weddings. It was a noticing. The ones who had lost and who remembered closed their eyes and looked inwards for a time, and then they carried on.