Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review: The Chaperone

By Kathryn Hamilton

The year is 1922. It is a time of corsets, prohibition, crank cars, and stout conservatism. Louise Brooks, who is to become a famous silent film actress, is a 15 year-old girl making the trek to New York City, reluctantly with chaperone Cora Carlisle in tow. Cora is burdened by secrets that motivate her desire to travel to the city. Although intent on protecting Louise from the “dangers” of the big city, Cora soon recognizes the opportunities that are being offered to her.

Laura Moriarty has created a wonderfully captivating story with her fourth novel, “The Chaperone.” As the protagonist who carries the bulk of the story, Cora is a delightful character to whom I was instantly drawn. I felt a great deal of empathy and respect for her, and cannot imagine being in her shoes. I understand how shocking some of Cora’s decisions were for the time, and perhaps they would be today, but it was pleasing to see that she found acceptance and true happiness. As for Louise, I found it difficult to like and sympathize with her, although I understood somewhat how she was shaped by her past. I can appreciate Louise’s desire to rebel against the constraints of her time, if not how she goes about it. The one gesture she makes near the end of the novel was heart-warming, and was redeeming after her past seemingly dismissal of Cora. She is a tragic character in many ways. The beauty of Cora and Louise contrasted is that while they appear to be polar opposites on the surface, they have more in common than is first apparent.

The story flows well and I found no issues with grammar or sentence structure. The flashback scenes served a purpose and enhanced the story’s progression. Ms. Moriarty is a competent descriptive author which allows the reader to easily imagine people and places. It is abundantly clear that she did a great deal of research so that she was true to Louise Brooks and the time period. I found myself chuckling at the reaction to women’s shorter haircuts and dress length, and I was also reminded that women simply didn’t wear pants at the time (I can only imagine how Cora and her counterparts would react to my going to the grocery store in my pjs). At the time when reading some of Cora’s thoughts (particularly regarding skirt length and the ghastly trend of clothing getting smaller), I was cognizant of the fact that a modern day author was writing the words, although my mom (who read the novel before me) was quick to point out that these opinions were authentic to the time.

Throughout the novel, I found that there was an underlying theme that people are going to live their lives in whichever way they see fit. However, everyone ultimately wants to feel accepted, valued and loved. It is a universal truth that our life’s journey is about discovering who we are as individuals, something Cora makes peace with early on.

The only small issue I had were the instances where two characters responded with “What?” when they did not hear what was said. It felt like this response was out of place and someone in the 1920s would have used the more proper “Pardon?” This being my only criticism, it certainly doesn’t take away from the story in any way.

It is clear why Ms. Moriarty has received glowing praise for “The Chaperone.” It is exquisite, and a delightful time capsule that I will be recommending to everyone. I suspect that readers who don’t normally read chick lit will also be enthralled with this wonderful novel.

More by Laura Moriarty:

1 comment:

Belgie said...

Everything; the story, characters, setting, pace, and events, were spot-on. From what I understand, the chaperone's life is a fictional adaptation, while Ms. Brooks' experiences are based on fact, and that's not a bad thing at all. These two women from different generations, just barely, really came full circle in thier lives. The elder, Cora, had to open her mind; while Louise, the younger, had to ultimately pay for her undisciplined attitudes and choices. We all can learn a lot from this book about how far we've come and how far we still need to go in regard to social attitudes.

I was surprised at a few events in the book, VERY surprised. I did not see the biggest one, almost midway through the book, at all. But I was thrilled and impressed with how it resolved.