Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

From the publisher: Only a few years before becoming a famous actress,  fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita to make it big in NY. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle is a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip. She has no idea what she's in store for: Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob and bangs, is known for her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will change their lives forever. For Cora, NY holds the promise of self-discovery, and even as she does her best to watch Louise in a strange and bustling city, she embarks on her own mission. While what she finds isn't what she anticipated, it liberates her in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of the summer, Cora's eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.
A wonderful surprise!  I think I expected this book to be about the famous Flapper, Louise Brooks. But this novel is much more complex than the publisher's blurb would lead us to believe. The parallel stories of Cora and Louise go only through the first part of the book.  After that first five weeks together in New York, their paths split, and the story becomes Cora's.  Her role as chaperone serves only to provide the beginnings of a transformation that will continue throughout her life.  Louise continues to appear, but only in cameo roles.

After her return to Witchita, the life changing events Cora endures (often unexpected) and her ability to adopt to them is affirming, both for herself and her family.  The variety of relationships, of changing social and cultural mores of the Roaring Twenties and pre-war era all serve as opportunities for growth, showing us a strong woman willing to take chances, often willing to defy society, while at the same time able to operate inside the structure of the accepted woman's role.

It's difficult to talk about everything that happens without spoiling an outstanding story.  Moriarty gives us in excruciating detail the life of an upper-middle class woman of the era, as well as the changes bombarding her from the social, financial, medical, political, and religious circles in which she moved.  It's a compelling story, and one that is sure to engage both women and men of all ages.

I listened to this one in audio, and while I normally enjoy this format, I did find the Kansas accent adapted by the narrator Elizabeth McGovern a bit off-putting.  I don't think I realized that Kansans have that strong a a twang. Other than that small nit-pick however, it was an enjoyable story, a well-told narration, and a book that deserves a good look by many many readers.

Author: Laura Moriarty
Publisher-Format: Penguin Group Audio; 13 hours, 15 minutes
Narrator: Elizabeth McGovern
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: women's roles
Setting: Witchita Kansas, New York City
Genre: Historical fiction,
Source: public library download


  1. I'm adding this to my must read list!

  2. I'm in the hold queue at the library for this book. I can't wait for my turn. :) Glad you enjoyed it!


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