August 8, 2012

Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Format: Hardback (borrowed)
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository 
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 love Women's Literature, the stories are always about empowerment and strength in the face of adversity, this genre never fails to inspire or stir up strong emotions from me. THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty is a very good example of this, set in the 1920's where values were changing fast and androgynous women were preferred and considered fashionable, we read about Cora whose beliefs was challenged by the vivacious and stubborn upcoming starlet Louise Brooks. Here LMoriarty gives us a story about victory and defeat, of dreams and nightmares, and a woman's journey as she slowly treads the road to self discovery.

Cora Carlisle was an orphan left in the care of nuns when she was a mere toddler. And though life wasn't that miserable for little Cora, it was easy either. Her luck started to change when she was adopted by the Kaufmann's, and it was through them that Cora finally had a semblance of family and normalcy. But life was filled with peaks and valleys and it was a series of unfortunate events that led her to the dashing and very handsome Alan Carlisle, a lawyer who Cora eventually ended up marrying. But married life and all its trappings proved to be disappointing for Cora. On the outside she seems to have a very charmed life with Alan but one fateful day, she caught the man cheating on her with his bestfriend and fellow lawyer, Raymond Walker. I was as devastated as Cora when I got to this point in the story, I felt betrayed and it was here that I got seriously invested in her story. If gender issues are still big issues right now, I can only imagine the taint it brought to one's home during this era when people are not as open minded and the Ku Klux Klan are gaining popularity amongst the masses. People were punished, imprisoned and cast out, treated like criminals for being gay, so Cora was caught in a conundrum and though painful, she chose to maintain a semblance of a happy marriage for the sake of her children.
Sister Dolores was telling her bloodlines meant nothing, when most people's entire lives were shaped by who their parent and grandparents were.
But eventually Cora and Alan came to an agreement, both unwilling to face humiliation and be publicly ostracized, their marriage became one of convenience. The following years wasn't easy for Cora but she bore it with dignity and restraint. It was when the opportunity to go to New York as Louise Brooks' chaperone (before she became a starlet) that became a pivoting moment for Cora. Her trip to The Big Apple proved to be cathartic because it was on this trip that she had a breakdown and a breakthrough. Cora finally discovered why she was given up and who her mother was. I can't help but loathe Cora's mother, the haughty and cold Mary O'Dell, she bore no remorse for what she did and was far from motherly when she and Cora finally met. It was due to her own desire to clear her conscience that made her meet the daughter she gave up thirty-six years ago and she was far from loving and basically treated Cora as a threat to her current life and told her that they will never have a relationship whatsoever. I felt Cora's heartbreak and I was itching to reach into the pages and shake Mary O'Dell senseless.
 Show me a mother with much thwarted ambition, and I'll show you a daughter born for success.
LMoriarty wrote a very touching and sweeping story about friendship, forgiveness and resilience. Louise Brooks and her relationship with her mother, Myra Brooks, was glacial and competitive at best and one I can't help but abhor. It's no wonder Louise turned into a train wreck similar to these socialites we see breaking down on TV on a regular basis. As for Cora and Alan's white marriage, it was frustrating at first but then it turned into a beautiful friendship, I actually found myself crying when Alan asked for Cora's forgiveness and became friends with Raymond which I find the most challenging. Cora was far from saintly, having a lover in Joseph with Alan's knowledge and blessing, but the complexity of forgiving is what I found the most profound amongst all the themes LMoriarty wrote into THE CHAPERONE.

LMoriarty dealt with a lot of issues in THE CHAPERONE from racial bigotry to sexuality from a tried and tested woman's perspective who had the unfortunate fate of being born during this time. It's a story about the triumph of women and all the ugly trimmings of being the weaker sex and how to turn that vulnerability into an unshakable strength.


  1. This is a great review. I really liked The Chaperone too. I did not realize that there was some truth in the characters until I was nearly finished with the book.

    1. I didn't expect I'll love it. I totally broke down when Alan was asking for Cora's forgiveness in his deathbed and how Raymond has to step back the entire time he was sick. I can imagine how frustrating that is and all those restrictions that time is so constricting.

  2. This is book is not what I excpeted as I thought it would be more about Brooks, but it was very enjoyable. The book focuses on the chaperone (I guess that explains the title).
    Charmaine Smith (Seattle IT Consulting)

  3. I wasn't sure what to expect going into this book and it certainly wasn't what I thought it would be - it was far more fabulous and interesting. The secrets that we hide behind our daily masks is a universal theme. Although set in the early 1900's, the themes are very relevant to our issues today. It made me think, and I like that.

    Cleo Rogers (Plumber Puyallup)


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