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It’s been a long time since I’ve felt a book was as lovely and touching as “The Chaperone” turned out to be. I was unable to put down this engaging story once started; so much so that when my ipod fell to the floor and gasped its final breath last night, I found myself rushing to reach the store prior to its closing so I could grudgingly replace the traitorous device.
While (in reality) Louise Brooks may have been the star, in this novel it’s Cora Carlisle that captures our hearts. We join Cora in 1922, during the summer of her 36th year. For reasons that will soon be reveled, she has decided to chaperone a then 15 year old Louise from Wichita Kansas to New York City, so Louise may participate in a dancing program she has been accepted to. I was amazed at how complete and authentic Cora was; reminding me of my mother, or the stories she tells me of my grandmother, at every turn. It would be so easy for an author to sell a character like this short; representing her strength but not her fear, or her fear without the background that caused it, or highlighting her open mind without bothering to first show us the searching or struggle gone through in order to open that mind. What makes us honorable in life is not what comes easily, but rather that which has been hard fought. As we look back on Cora’s first 36 years, and follow her through the rest of her life, we are presented with a picture of a complete, strong, and kind woman that I will miss now that the story is over.
I’ve always been a fan of Elizabeth McGovern, and the narration was superb, treating Cora with the grace and dignity she deserved.
I really don’t know how I'll be able to move from this special story to any other book. It leaves all other options looking a bit lackluster.
118 of 124 people found this review helpful
The Chaperone simultaneously depicts the changing social culture during the 1920's, as well as the feminist self-awakening of small town Wichitan, Cora Carlisle. The author uses actual historical events, places, and people to shuffle us through this momentous era - almost Forest Gump style - with recognizable period icons gliding along in Cora's backdrop like pictures in a scrapbook of her life, (flapper girls, bathtub gin, the Jazz age, racism and the KKK, women's suffrage, birth control, etc.). These fascinating images embellish Cora's recollections; they are recognizable, relatable, and immediately draw in the listener. The most exciting vehicle in Cora's transforming journey is the famous silent film star Louise Brooks, who is used more as a catalyst for the stoic Cora's introspection, and a representative image (and result) of rebellion, than a co-star in the book.
This book is immediately enchanting and breezy with nicely shaped characters, that coincidentally represent different personal pathways in this changing time (almost allegorical); sometimes appearing a little too convenient, a little too token--but understandably necessary to carry this story in its evolution. The pacing was a little bothersome...initially, I enjoyed being able, while I listened, to compare where we are now with our social mores, how we are still struggling with some of the same issues and restrictions; later, the story seemed to jump ahead, speed up, step back, and skip over important details. Moriarty so skillfully lays out the images and feelings of the era, the vivid streets of New York, the tumultuous social clashes, and I would have liked for her to use that talent to tell us more about the war, the depression, the Dust Bowl (which would have made a book double the size - but would have been all right with me; call me selfish).
I can't end without mentioning one of the most important underlying issues; the sexual abuse of Louise. I haven't read Louise's own account of her childhood, or testimonies to the 15 yr. old's psychological maturity, but, I know that being routinely sexually abused from the age of 9 yrs. old would not create a 15 yr. old girl that is cool, savvy, and spunky--as Louise was portrayed. The author hints at the self-destruction, and the reader follows the logic that she was a self-driven, uncannily beautiful woman, at ease with her sexuality and ahead of her times, when in reality, a background of such extreme abuse would sadly play itself out throughout a victimized person's life--and that was what was so heartbreaking about, and destructive to, Louise.
A touching and entertaining read I highly recommend. Elizabeth McGovern does a beautiful job, giving each character the emotional depth and individuality needed to do justice to such a huge story. You can't go wrong picking this one; a classic in the making.
75 of 81 people found this review helpful