Reviewed on 24th January 2019

Louis and Louise by Julie Cohen

Genre: Contemporary / Fiction / Women's Fiction
Louis and Louise by Julie Cohen Synopsis


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.

Louis and Louise by Julie Cohen Review

A Thought-Provoking Novel about Forgiveness, Acceptance and Love in all Guises – No Matter the Gender

It is the mark of a good author when they can take topical issues, or current affairs and tackle them within literature in a timeless and tactful manner. When I read the synopsis of Louis and Louise, I was curious to find out if one of my favourite authors could do just that.

I was expecting a Sliding Doors-style book. ‘One life, told twice‘. It seems simple enough. An easy read that I could consume cover to cover in one day. The premise is how a person’s life could be different if only one aspect, their gender, was changed. How would their lives have played out had the doctor said ‘boy’ instead of girl.

Having read all of her other books, I should have known Julie Cohen would not leave it there.

Louis & Louise is so much more than just one story told twice. It is a dissection of our worldviews. It is an honest, raw and sometimes painful look at a society and the importance we put on gender. Don’t be scared, it doesn’t preach, it’s a very clever approach to giving two perspectives on the same thing, and it really made me think. A lot.

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I honestly believed that due to the fact that I consider myself fairly liberal, this book would hold no great surprises.

Cohen has taken a simple but important topic and explored it in a thoughtful and tactful manner. She is asking questions such as: would our lives be so different if we were born as the opposite sex? What would this mean for our sexuality? Would our destiny change? Our chosen profession? Our relationships and connections with our loved ones? Shared experiences?

Louis & Louise explores one story – one life. The structure of the book is thankfully easy to follow, it is told from three perspectives, both separately and together.

In 1978 ‘Lou’ is born to loving parents Peggy and Irving Alder, a prominent family in Casablanca, Maine. Expectations for their child are set from the moment the first three words are uttered in the delivery room – ‘it’s a …’ 

Other than their gender, everything about them is the same. The same shock of red hair, the same zest for life. The same childhood friends and shared experiences,  the same passions and ambitions. How they are viewed by those around them is what makes them different. The only ‘physical’ difference (other than sex) is that Louis wears his glasses until College while Louise gets contact lenses early in her childhood.

One tragic event on the night of their graduation changes the course of their respective lives. How this tragedy unfolds, how it is dealt with and the repercussions that follow are solely down to one small difference. Their sex.

Honestly, I feel quite naive. The reason I say this is because, as I said, I have always considered myself fairly liberal. Although it is not a surprise to me that men and women are treated differently, it shocks me, that in this day and age, it took a book for me to question my own teachings.

Do I treat my daughters differently? Would I talk to them the same way or have the same expectations of them if they were boys. Until reading this novel I would have said categorically no – that their sex has no relation to how I treat them, how I dress them, how I respect them. But it’s so easy to forget ourselves and slip into societal norms. To follow expectations and walk with the crowd.

Louis & Louise left me thinking about my own expectations in a way I have not before. And for me, that is the mark of a truly exceptional novel. To open the pages with one view of yourself and replace the book on the shelf knowing you have changed so many of your own views on life. To follow one author’s journey through such incredibly well-drawn characters as she explores these themes and question the world around you.

Despite the fact that Cohen is tackling a truly modern day concept – her setting moves between the 1970’s and present day which helps illuminate how far we have come as a society. How much more accepting we are of sexuality, gender and inclusion. But it also highlights just how much further we must travel.

Back in the 1970’s, men were made to wait in the waiting room to be told they were fathers, being brought into the room only when mother and child are wrapped up in colour appropriate blankets and looking presentable and ready for the public.

These days, we let it all out. We scream at our partners as we push and often choose non-gender specific names.

But how many of us still set expectations based on gender? Chose the clothes we dress our children in according to their sex? Expect sexuality to form one way but are ‘happy to accept my child is different’ if they go against what we still deem as the ‘social norm’. We may be inclusive, we may be accepting, but we have a long road to travel to become truly enlightened.

Cohen doesn’t shy away from the tough subjects in this novel. The #MeToo movement has clearly influenced the themes. Sexuality, gender, but most of all forgiveness and acceptance all play a major role in shaping the plot.

I have long been a fan of Julie Cohens novels. Her ability to take such emotive subjects and truly draw you in from the first page has meant that her work graces my bookshelf almost as soon as her latest is published, but this, for me, sees a different side of Julie pull through.

It feels much more raw and personal. It feels much more real than any of her other work. For me, I believe this is her best book to date. But then, I may be biased. Because I think that reading the journey of ‘Lou’ has changed me just a little. Has tweaked my views on the world and made me rethink how I approach my own parenting.

But don’t take my word for it – make up your own mind.

Louis & Louise is a remarkable novel, full of love, heart, pain and fear. Forgiveness, acceptance, but most of all… love. In all its many forms and guises. No matter your background, no matter your connection, no matter your gender.

Published by: Orion
ISBN: 978-140917-982-5

Many thanks to Orion and Tracy Fenton for inviting us to take part in this Blog Tour.

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