Tuesday, November 21, 2006

26a - Diana Evans - gruelling story of twoness

I picked up 26a in a three for two offer at Waterstones a few months ago. It’s Diana Evans’ first novel, and the front and back covers are emblazoned with “shortlisted for …” and “winner of …” banners.

Georgia and Bessie are identical twins, sharing life, their thoughts intertwined and interdependent.

“Twoness in oneness.”

The book follows them through their childhood as they grow up into adulthood, watching their research, manufacture and sale of flapjacks. Their older sister Bel acts as a trailblazer, discovering the complexity of life outside the safety of teenage home life. Younger sister Kemy shows what youthful life would be like without having a twin to rely on or support.

The sentence construction is unusual. Pretty short. Something happens; then something else. And then there’s some kind of explanation. Before the next scene unfolds. Nothing wrong with the style. Just unusual.

It’s an interesting mix of north London (Neasden) and Nigeria, contrasting the differing bustling environments. Other family members’ history is played back as the episodic chapters tell their tale. We discover about the female Nigerian role models, their English father’s abusive behaviour and experiences in Laos. The twins’ mother Ida is still homesick for Africa, and talks to her absent mother. Imbalance is all around.

As you reach the Third Bit (seriously, that’s what the third chunk of chapters are called!) the psychological knots that tie the twins together are beginning to unravel as they try to step out on their own. Bessi’s six month stint on St Lucia highlights that Georgia can’t cope without her. A stable loving relationship only dampens the flames that consume and destroy her.

The final section of the book - the Best Bit - is badly named. I found it heart-wrenching, gruelling to read, and hard to remember that it was only fiction.

Should there really be prizes for upsetting literature. Or is that success? Is that the purpose of fiction, to make us think outside our comfort zones? To face up to the internal mental torture that many people experience, that drives their behaviour but isn’t recognised until too late.

It was only afterwards that I realised that Diana Evans has used her own life and the death of her twin sister as a starting point for the book.

I’m not sure I recommend this book. I doubt if I’ll read Diana Evans second novel. (Though the short story she’s working on “about a little girl who gets sucked into a hoover” sounds fascinating). But I’m glad I finished 26a.

1 comment:

John Self said...

"Should there really be prizes for upsetting literature. Or is that success? Is that the purpose of fiction, to make us think outside our comfort zones?"

Yes. Or at least not No. It shouldn't really matter if the book is upsetting, though if it is it's surely an achievement rather than a flaw. Much of the fiction I love, from Patrick McGrath to Richard Yates, is considered 'depressing' by some, but the vigour and honesty of the writing means their books bristle with life.