by Laura Moriarty
Why did you choose this book? book club selection
When did you read this book? August 2014
Source: Library Book Club set
Here is a synopsis of The Chaperone from Goodreads
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.
For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.
Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond—from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers, and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women—Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them.
I really enjoyed this book a lot….right up until the end. The book kept me interested and was hard to put down, but in the last couple of chapters it kind of spun out of control. I know that I often comment that I wish the author would have added an epilogue to let me know what happened to the characters, and I still believe that. An epilogue set twenty years in the future that looked quickly back and told me what the characters were doing now would have been great. Instead, this book tried to tell the whole twenty years in just a few pages. It felt a bit like a space travel movie, where things speed up a little….and then a little more….and then a lot more….until they blur by so quickly you aren’t really sure what it happening!
The story was a good one, reminding me a little bit of Orphan Train, with an older woman who was transported west on an orphan train develops a relationship with a young teen who is for all purposes without parenting. I was a little surprised by the emphasis on Cora, the older woman who chaperones Louise to New York. It should have been obvious from the title, but I think the ‘blurb’ on the cover through me off. Though Louise is part of the story, she is not at all the central character in the story.
The story also reminded me a little of The Other Typist in that it was set in the ‘roaring 20s’ and Louise was a young woman of the 20s. The story told of speakeasies and flappers and sexually liberated young women. It was only after I finished the book and read a bit about the real Louise Brooks that I realized how much of the story was not fictional, but was in fact, based on the life of Louise.
Except for the ending I enjoyed this book a lot. Our book club had a good discussion, discussing topics from changing attitudes towards women, when it is ok to lie, and poor parenting skills, among others. If you are part of a book club, you will want to add this one to your list!
For more information about Louise Brooks, the actress, you can read about her on Wikipedia or check out The Louise Brooks Society website. You can also view a small clip from one of her films below.
You might also be interested in learning more about orphan trains. If so, check out this podcast at Stuff You Missed In History Class.
My Rating: ★★★1/2 3-1/2 Stars