What would your life be like if you were born a different gender? This is the powerful question that Julie Cohen explores in Louis & Louise.
Louis and Louise have the same red hair, best friends and share the dream of being a writer. Louis was born on 8 September 1978 to Peggy and Irving Alder of Casablanca. Louise was also born on 8 September 1978 to Peggy and Irving. They are the same person born in two different lives, separated only by their gender, announced by the doctor at birth. In a Sliding Doors parallel universe, it’s one life, lived twice.
One night, as 18 year olds they both experience a pivotal moment that will shape their adult lives forever. Thirteen years later their mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer and they return to Casablanca. It’s time to confront their childhood and the reason they dramatically left home over a decade ago.
While Julie takes one character and imagines two lives, she doesn’t simply write the story in alternating chapters. She introduces the non-gender specific character, Lou. The third narrative shares the parts of Louis and Louise’s lives that are identical. The result is an outstanding read.
From the moment we are born, the people around us treat us according to gender. Pink or blue, we’re handed different sets of expectations and limitations, says Julie. Essentially this book is about how gender changes everything… and nothing, she says.
In her author’s note, Julie says writing this novel was almost a game. What would happen if she took the protagonist and only changed one thing about them – their gender? What if she wrote two stories separately, with the same setting and characters, but in two different realities. How could that one difference, male or female, change the entire world around them?
I guarantee Julie’s latest book will have you discussing the role gender plays in predetermining our lives. Louis & Louise is intelligently written, engaging and thought provoking. It is particularly insightful in the #MeToo era and as the gun control movement gathers pace. If there is only one book you choose to read to better understand gender, this is it!
Julie Cohen teaches creative writing and mentors writers. She is the author of Together, Falling, Where Love Lies and Dear Thing. Julie’s books have been translated into 17 languages and sold a million copies. She lives in England with her family.
Reviewer: Andrea Molloy Hachette, RRP $44.99