It’s my pleasure today to share my review of Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen, published by Orion on 24th January and available in all formats other than paperback, which will follow in September. My thanks to the publishers for providing an e-copy via netgalley – I’m sorry I’m a little late to the party! Where Julie’s books are concerned, “party” is quite an appropriate word for me to use – when I first started attending book-related events the launch of Where Love Lies was one of the first parties I attended. You’ll find reviews here on Being Anne of Dear Thing, Where Love Lies and Falling (links to my reviews) – I’m rather ashamed that a copy of Together is still unread on my kindle, and I really must put that right.
One life, lived twice.
Louis and Louise are the same person born in two different lives. They are separated only by the sex announced by the doctor and a final ‘e’.
They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle. They both suffer one catastrophic night, with life-changing consequences.
Thirteen years later, they are both coming home.
A tender, insightful and timely novel about the things that bring us together – and those which separate us, from the author of Richard & Judy recommended book Together.
I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive about this book, but not because I had any doubts about the writing. It was just that I rarely have the opportunity to sit down with a book these days, and I was concerned that its structure might make it difficult to read in short bursts. Should you have similar qualms, worry not. While its themes might be challenging, the structure is entirely comfortable to read – “one life, lived twice”, the alternating accounts of the life of the same person and the way it differs so radically based on that small letter “e”. It looks at those lives in terms of expectations, opportunities, actions, decisions, and the perceptions and expectations of others – and it works just perfectly.
I particularly liked the way the story is anchored by the small industrial town of Casablanca, Maine, rarely visited by either adult Lou, but where both stories reach resolution. At their core is one night and its repercussions, the differing outcomes, the way the events play out differently – but the stories feature most of the same strong supporting characters (other than those encountered only in adulthood), the same decaying industrial backdrop, but with a significant twist to the way events play out. You might expect it to be a little preachy on the issues of gender and sexuality, but it isn’t at all – it focuses on identity and differing realities, and allows the reader to draw their own lessons, which makes it far more thought-provoking and engaging.
While the structure is intricate and very cleverly handled, the characters are particularly well-drawn – mother Peggy with her obsession around appearance (her own, but also the perception of others), the wonderfully gentle and caring father Irving, Allie in both her adult lives, and I particularly liked the extra dimension added by Louise’s daughter and Louis’ wife. And its themes and issues are wider than gender alone – there’s also a focus on class issues, the secrets families hide, the limited opportunities of a small town upbringing in a setting blighted by its industrial past, with lessons to be learned about forgiveness, acceptance and love.
I feel I’m not doing the book full justice with this review, but it’s a difficult one to call without going into the ins and outs of the parallel stories – and I think it’s important to be able to experience this book without that. But I found it emotional, compelling, and filled with moments – large and small – that give considerable opportunity for reflection on its many issues. I really loved it.
About the author
Julie Cohen grew up in the western mountains of Maine. Her house was just up the hill from the library and she spent many hours walking back and forth, her nose in a book. She studied English Literature at Brown University and Cambridge University and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, including classes for The Guardian and Literature Wales. Her books have been translated into seventeen languages and sold a million copies worldwide: Together and Dear Thing were both Richard and Judy Book Club picks. Julie lives in Berkshire with her husband, son and a terrier of dubious origin.