Book Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

A captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922, and the summer that would change them both. Only a few years before becoming a famous actress and an icon for her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita to make it big in New York. 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 for: Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous blunt bangs and black bob, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will change their lives forever. For Cora, New York holds the promise of discovery that might prove an answer to the question at the center of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in a strange and bustling city, she embarks on her own mission. And 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 (From 

I don’t think there’s any other period in time as enticing as the 1920’s, and that’s certainly what drew me to this book. I hadn’t heard of Louise Brooks (a real actress of the period who this fictional story is centred around) but I was looking forward to reading about the glamour of New York during this exciting time.

What was surprising is this isn’t what the book is about. I was expecting stories of Flappers and Speak-easies, glitz and glamour. Instead, this is a very quiet yet thoughtful book about a woman’s journey in finding herself in a time when the very essence of the society she has grown up with is changing at lightening speed.

Told through the eyes of Cora, the actresses 36 year old chaperone, we see through her eyes the changing attitudes in both her small town in Kansas and New York with themes including class division, poverty, women’s rights, racism and homophobia. I love the way Cora developes throughout this book, from typically narrow-minded to a pioneer and champion of the underdog. It’s all very quiet and subtle, and spanning decades rather than set in only in the 1920’s you really get a feel of the shifting changes. I think in this respect, Laura Moriarty really grasps and evokes history.

So, was I disappointed in the lack of glamour of the roaring twenties? Slightly…I must be honest. After all, that’s what I went into the book expecting. I also thought the book lacked a little drama at times and lost pace in the middle, with the final third spanning fifty years a little too quickly. Nonetheless once I finished it, I did have plenty to think about and in turn appreciate it. The Chaperone is a story of one woman’s journey of acceptance, both of herself and others. Who without people such as her, we wouldn’t have the far more accepting and diverse world we have today. She’s a normal woman, who does nothing particularly heroic…but she’s quietly brave in her fight against repression and I very much enjoyed her story.

Published by Penguin UK April 2012
My copy was an advanced readers copy from the Amazon Vine program.

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