A hauntingly beautiful, wickedly funny and devastatingly moving novel of innocence and dreams. A hauntingly beautiful, wickedly funny and devastatingly moving novel of innocence and dreams that announces the arrival of a major new talent to the literary scene The attic room at 26a Waifer Avenue in the lower-middle-class London neighborhood of Neasden is a sanctuary for identical twins Georgia and Bessi Hunter. It is a private universe where fantasy reigns as well as an escape from the sadness and danger that inhabit the floors below. Here the girls share nectarines and forge their identities -- planning glorious success as the Famous Flapjack Twins -- well removed from their Nigerian mother, Ida, who, devastated by homesickness, speaks to the spirits of the family she left behind on another continent.

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Herself a twin, she grounds her novel in the emotional complexities of growing up in twinhood: the privileged comforts of "twoness in oneness"; the terror of being alone and simultaneous craving for self-discovery. Yet as the story darkens, it illuminates not only the nature of twins, but the universal quest for both mirroring affirmation and individuality, the perils of solitude and fragmentation, and the transcendence of all separation and loss.

It opens arrestingly with a mythic reincarnation. Georgia Hunter, elder by 45 minutes, and Bessi, who spends her first weeks in an incubator, grow up at 26a Waifer Avenue, Neasden, within spitting distance of the North Circular.

The girls inhabit a loft with a "spaghetti-Western saloon door", strawberry-smelling beanbags, and a hamster called Ham, who eyes his plastic wheel with as much puzzlement as the twins do their family: their father Aubrey "a sour-faced man with a morning tremble" , mother Ida who "walked slower than anyone else in England" , elder sister Bel and younger sister Kemi.

At 15 Ida had walked out from a Nigerian village where her father had "bought a radio" with her nubile elder sister and now had his eye on a portable TV. Aubrey had fled Derbyshire at 29 from a mother who still fussed over his washing. Yet she was the "only other human being he felt he resembled", who gave him a "certificate of being".

But the gap widens after a trip to Nigeria, where guavas displace apples, and the twins discover that "home was homeless. It could exist anywhere, because its only substance was familiarity. I lost mine. After an acid trip, the "shadows" in her head become voices urging self-destruction.

While Britain mourns its "fairytale" princess, the Hunters face their own bereavement. But the spirit who comes to "inhabit" her surviving twin takes on a first-person voice to tell her that "twoness never ends".

The novel intimates how death and loss sharpen perception of life, and how the dead live on in others, as the twins find a "different way of talking. You smell the roses more deeply and watch the sky more closely, how it turns, the change at dusk as lilac finds indigo. Homesick Ida converses with her absent mother, while drunken Aubrey mutates into his own Mr Hyde.

Georgia wonders whether being in love was "something like being a twin", though, when she falls for the Jimi Hendrix follower Toby, Bel cautions against joining herself to "another so like you". While many characters yearn for completion and to "fit in", twinhood becomes a metaphor for the solace and claustrophobia of all powerful, mirroring loves. The writing is both mature and freshly perceptive, creating not only a warmly funny novel of a Neasden childhood - with its engaging minutiae of flapjacks and icepops, lip gloss and daisy hairclips - but a haunting account of the loss of innocence and mental disintegration.

It hints at the randomness of fate, or character, that can allow one child to grow unfettered while a moment of cruelty can damage and stunt another. A novel about being twins grows stealthily, movingly, into one about being human.


Two into one

Shelves: female-authors , read-in What a ride. The writing was amazing, the story fascinating, the characters highly likable and interesting - but it was SO depressing. The first half of the book feels like a sweet coming-of-age story. Our main characters, two sometimes too-cute-to-be-true twins, grow up between London and Nigeria in a seemingly happy family. As the story progresses, however, we learn that everyone is fighting their own demons. The father turns to alcohol and the alcohol turns him into a violent monster.


Diana Evans




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