'New Zadie Smith' on Shortlist for Orange Debut Writers' Prize

Article excerpt

A novelist who has been touted as the new Zadie Smith has been shortlisted for the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers, a spin- off from the established Orange Prize for fiction by female writers.

Diana Evans, 33, has been nominated for the prize for her semi- autobiographical debut novel 26a, which many critics have compared to White Teeth, the best-selling debut novel by Smith.

The new award, which is open to first-time female authors, was designed to help emerging talent, and identify writers with originality, according to the judges. It carries a pounds 10,000 prize.

The other books on the shortlist are Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, both American.

Evans is a graduate of the University of East Anglia's creative writing course, has published short stories in a number of anthologies and worked as a journalist. But it is her debut novel that has brought her to the notice of the literary world.

Her book is set in Neasden, north London, in the 1980s among an eccentric mixed-race family who live at 26 Waifer Avenue with their identical twin daughters. The twins spend much of their time in their hideaway attic called 26a. The relationship between the twins, Georgia and Bessi, is explored, showing how they cope with child abuse, sex and jealousy. Their drunken white father, Aubrey, struggles to cope with his past, while their Nigerian mother, Ida, struggles with British cooking and talks aloud to her absent mother.

The book was favourably reviewed in The Independent on Sunday: 'It shouldn't work " there's just too much drama overloading this otherwise familiar formula " but somehow Diana Evans pulls it off with a flourish. Evans's style is laid-back and chatty. …