Title: The Chaperone
Author: Laura Moriarty
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Publication Date: 6-5-12
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adult, 1920s Era
Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing 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, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.
After hearing about this book from Leah (Books Speak Volumes) in her Jazz Age January sign-up post, I couldn’t wait to read it. I love the 1920s and was really excited to get a chance to read more books about this era. The Chaperone follows the relationship between a 36-year-old woman, Cora, and her charge for the summer, 15-year-old Louise. This novel is actually based on a real-live actress who starred in silent movies during the time in which the book is set!
While I thought that the idea behind the novel was creative and interesting, I thought that Moriarty tried to squeeze in a few too many historical facts during the story. There were times when she’d arbitrarily mention something political happening in the behind-the-scenes of the novel’s world, even if it didn’t directly relate to the characters at the time. It felt somewhat awkward and out of place.
But the rest of the historical aspects of this novel were on-point. I loved getting to read about the glitz and the glamour of 1920s New York City as experienced by two people who’d never been there before (besides Cora’s brief stint in one of the city’s orphanages as a young girl). It was exhilarating, realistic and quite charming.
Cora’s character was my absolute favorite part of this novel. At first, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about her, but as the novel progresses, she begins to open up…both to the reader and to Louise and the other characters. You start to see how her life’s experiences have shaped her into the person that she has become, and even better, how the experiences she goes through in the novel will change her even more. We get to witness her remarkable transition from this naïve and judgmental middle-aged girl into a glorious, intelligent, and resilient woman. Cora completely won my heart over in every single way. I found myself wildly flipping through the pages of this novel, eager to find out what Cora would discover about herself next and how she would deal with the obstacles she continuously faces throughout the book.
But, unfortunately, while I was completely ready to give this book a hearty 4.5 stars when I was almost to the end, I ended up having to downgrade it to only 4 stars because of how it ultimately wrapped up. At the moment when I thought the book was about to end and was perfectly happy with it…was actually about 70 pages before the actual ending. And I don’t think that anything very important was achieved in those last 70 pages. We get to watch Cora and Louise grow old and fizzle out, as people do in real life, but I wish that we could’ve ended the novel on a different note. It felt like the author was trying to meticulously document the last days and years of these people’s lives, but instead it became boring and dragged out. These characters should’ve risen to the top and then stayed there. It was depressing to watch them fall from their greatest moments for so many long pages after the chapter in which I was content with it ending.
But I’m not going to let that slow fade of an ending ruin the love affair I experienced with this book throughout its first 300 pages. I truly did fall in love with The Chaperone, and adored it so much more than I thought I was going to. I highly recommend this book to any Jazz Age historical fiction fans, and I definitely am excited to read more from this author.