This novel is quite simply outstanding. Think Middlesex meets Life After Life. Julie Cohen takes one character and imagines two parallel lives; one as a male and ones as a female. The result is an absolutely fantastic read.
We follow Louis and Louise over the course of their lives growing up in the small Maine town of Casablanca. We follow Louis and Louise’s childhood, adolescence and the choices they make that shape the adult they become. The story centres on both Louis and Louise returning to their hometown after thirteen years away upon hearing the news that their mother has cancer. They must both not only confront the terminal illness of their mother but also the ghosts of their childhood and the reasons they left town thirteen years ago.
When I first read the concept I imagined the story would be told in alternating chapters, male and female, and that each life would end up being starkly different but with some common threads. However that is not what happens. In fact it is almost the complete opposite. Instead of two narratives Julie Cohen tells the story in three; Louis, Louise and Lou. The Lou narrative being the parts of Louis & Louise’s lives that are identical. It is the Lou narrative that takes this book from a great idea to a great novel. Rather than gender resulting in starkly different lives you instead see the familiarities between both lives in more focus which in consequence makes the differences that occur as a result of gender more distinct and critical.
This was the first book I read in 2019 and if this is an indication of what the year in reading has in store bring it on. This was a brilliant novel to start the year!