Review: 26a, Diana Evans

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.)

Spoilers to follow in this paragraph: If I had known going in what was going to happen at the end, I wouldn’t have read this book. Fond as I am of my own sisters, I do not deal well with stories in which people lose their own sisters. I have been known to abandon books at rest stops in Georgia when it became clear that one of the sisters in the book was going to die. 26a is particularly sad because it’s someone losing her twin sister; and because Diana Evans herself lost a twin sister to suicide.

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.

Do you have any authors whose books are not exactly your thing genre-wise, but their writing makes you love them anyway?


American cover
American cover
British cover
British cover

Cover report: Again, I’m unhappy with this on both sides. The American cover is more pleasing to look upon, yet it is generic. The British cover would not cause me to pick it up in a bookstore, but I like how the cover picks up the image of the wallpaper in Bessi and Georgia’s room, and I like how it’s cracked and peeling. My instinct was American cover, and I’m keeping it there because that’s what I did with The Village. Okay. American. By a hair. And I’m not happy with either one.

25 thoughts on “Review: 26a, Diana Evans”

  1. I had this out from the library once (a different UK cover, it had a girl sitting on stairs on the front of it), but never got around to reading it. That feels like a bit of a shame now.

  2. Honestly, I just didn’t like this at all. The more weird and sad the twins grew, the less believable they became to me. That seems odd, since clearly Diana Evans was putting a core event of her own life into the story, but for me, Georgia rang less and less true and the story became more and more meh. I did like the dreamy feel of the beginning parts; I don’t know if all this is because I can’t tolerate misery, or because that is how I think childhood really feels at times. Shallow? or insightful? Probably which? 🙂

    1. I could not say. It doesn’t seem like your book at all — far too much misery. It’s actually far too much misery for me as well, but the writing was so good I kept on with it.

  3. Well I should read this. I did not know about the twin thing – very interesting! I did read another book set in Nigeria which did not feature twins (at least I didn’t remember any twins in there), in case you are interested – The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin.

    1. Huh! I am interested, and I am also surprised! I bet if Shoneyin writes more books she will have a twin in one of them. :p

  4. I love the line about happiness being a visitation. I don’t believe that happiness has to be about all grins and laughter; my deepest happiness is a sort of contentment or satisfaction–love of family, books, good health, but there are times when happiness bursts on the scene, more appreciated than usual, with a greater awareness and a feeling of lightness and joy. A visitation, indeed.

    Interesting about the twin thing and Nigeria, but I don’t think the book is for me.

    1. Yes indeed — I agree with you exactly. Grins and laughter are nice, but it’s the contentment that tends to stay with you.

  5. Fun little tidbit fact with the Nigerian twins thing! I’m tucking that into my memory bank and shall credit you when it wins me zillions of dollars on Jeopardy!

  6. I read this too! Like, 3 years ago, and you and (your)Mumsy both commented on my review. I remember liking it, but when I read my review, I guess I really liked it. Did I send you this book? I remember once upon a time sending a book that your mom wanted to read, but I can’t remember which book. But I thought I sent a book that I didn’t like, so maybe not 26A. (I sent a book I didn’t like because you were interested in it and it seemed like a good idea to recycle the book where it was wanted)

    Isn’t it weird going back and reading comments that you made but you can’t remember making? And realizing how long we’ve all known each other?

    1. Aha! Mumsy was SAYING that she read 26a on the recommendation of somebody, but she couldn’t remember which blogger it was. And now we know: It was you!

      The book you sent me (so, so kindly) was Poppy Shakespeare, I think. Did my mother want to read it as well? I can’t remember.

  7. I agree with you about the covers – I’m not into either of them. The American one looks too much like chick-lit, and the British one is too busy. I haven’t read much Nigerian lit (just a couple of books I think). I’ll have to keep that in mind about twins for future reading.

    1. Hey, me too! Do you often find books where the therapists are GOOD though? I feel like a lot of the fictional therapists of the world are terrible at their jobs.

      The therapist isn’t in 26a very much. She makes a few appearances, but nothing substantial. I’ve quoted the best bit of her in the review above — not much more to see!

  8. I prefer the American cover too even if it is more generic. But I don’t think I”ll pick up this one anyway. Therapy and suicide? Sounds a double dose of depressing for me.

    1. Yep, it is very depressing indeed. If I’d known how depressing, and what brand of depressing, it was going to be, I might not have picked it up.

  9. Interesting fact about twins! I’ve only read one Nigerian writer, Adichie, so far I don’t remember a mention of twins. I’m at the beginning of Americanah, so I could be proved incorrect.

    I’ve not read the spoilers, as I think – from the quotes you’ve posted – I will want to read this one.

    1. Aha, there are no twins in Americanah (that I recall), but she writes about twins in Half of a Yellow Sun.

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