A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
If there is a chaperone, there must be a chaperoned and in this novel, it’s Louise Brooks, a 15-year old beauty on the brink of stardom. If her name sounds familiar, it is because Brooks is a real person who made her career in silent films and popularized the bobbed hair style. The chaperone is a fictional character, 36-year old Cora Carlisle, who agrees to accompany Louise from Wichita, Kansas to New York City in 1922, so that Louise can train with an avant-garde dance school.
The contrast between the two could not be more striking. Louise is stunning, unconventional and rebellious; Cora is proper and buttoned-up. What can become of such an odd couple? Not much, in Louise’s case; she benefits some from Cora’s solicitude during their five-week time together and later in their lives, but mostly follows her own rocketing and rocky trajectory. For Cora, however, Louise’s influence is dramatic and life-changing. For starters, going to New York gives Cora a chance to unearth secrets in her own past. It’s also an opportunity to rethink the rules and regulations that have shaped her, literally corseting her from breathing fully breathe and enjoying life.
That rethinking leads Cora to a much different path than the one she started on; though she returns home to her handsome lawyer husband and twin college-age sons, she’s come back a different woman. And it is not Louise who returns with her.
Louise, Cora and the other characters in The Chaperone are engaging and the plot lines are exciting, but it’s the themes that really hold center stage in this work. By extending the story from 1922 to 1982, Moriarity is able to explore many of the issues that define the 20th Century, including prohibition, integration and women’s liberation. Moreover, she’s able to delve into the timeless questions of nature versus nurture, how children bring adults into the future and what is the role of truth in leading a good life.
The audio version of The Chaperone is a special treat. Elizabeth McGovern narrates it with the gentle, cultured, tones she uses to such great effect as Lady Grantham in Downton Abbey. Her amazing change-ups to Kansan and German accents are an added bonus. For sheer reading and listening pleasure, there’s no better escort than The Chaperone.
Review by Christine