The Chaperone

When one reads the name of Louise Brooks on the jacket of a book, one assumes that the book will be filled with tales of the glamorous silent movie star who went to seed too fast but remained proud and arrogant till her death. The fact that the name of the book is The Chaperone hinted to me that the story might involve Louise Brooks’ influencing her dowdy chaperone and introducing her to the big bad (beautiful) world of New York City. That makes for okay reading. Luckily for me, the book in no way took that turn. Instead it focused on the life of Cora Carlisle, a proper married lady from Wichita, who accompanies Louise on her journey to New York but really goes to find truths, freedom, and a broader mind. That’s not including all the things she didn’t count on finding…

On first meeting Cora in the book, one assumes she’s a well-bred woman of society who is happily married, enjoys ladies luncheons and teas, and has a keen eye on the world around her. With Louise being the bubbly, obnoxious, carefree teenager, it was easy to think that Cora would be the stark opposite with a spotless background. As the book progresses, we see Cora’s strengths and, more importantly, her vulnerabilities in marvellous ways. Cora came to Kansas from an orphan house in New York City with no knowledge whatsoever of her real family. Her teenage years were marked by the tragic loss of her adoptive parents and then a wedding to a rich, handsome lawyer. Their marriage, seemingly normal on the outside, had its own hidden tragedies that left me torn and confused for Cora. Moriarty never made her characters all good or all bad, there were two sides to every story and one had to keep reading to find out how they felt. Cora’s whirlwind journey in New York with Louise was only part of the book. The rest is the aftermath, both good and bad, focusing on Cora but with bits of Louise’s shooting success and equally quick and gossip-worthy failures leaking in.

The Chaperone is a moral quandary, an ache for freedom and happiness, and a need to conform to the proprieties of society. It uncovers the fact that everyone has deep secrets which drive their actions. It showcases examples of good parenting, absent parenting, and downright horrendous parenting. It portrays the differences in love and how important certain unforeseen relationships can turn out to be. Most importantly, it confronts truth and the necessity of hiding it for one’s own good. Cora’s character was equal parts practical and spontaneous. The fact that she was almost 22 years older than her charge showcases the differences in generational thinking and how both learned from each other, however reluctantly it might have been. The most beautiful part of it all is that the story is embedded in the world of Prohibition, blacks versus whites, the emergence of the Klu Klux Klan, the ‘obscenity’ of birth control, the glamour of Broadway and finally, World War II. Moriarty takes us back into the 20s, 30s, and 40s with ridiculous ease as she weaves a plot that made me loathe to put the book down for as much as a minute.


The Chaperone


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