I have been on a historical fiction kick lately, and I’m speeding through books with the use of Audible and regular reading. I have some books to review and a few of them are in the same vein as The Paris Wife and Rules of Civility. This next one is the audiobook version of The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. It was performed by Elizabeth McGovern of Downton Abbey fame.
The Chaperone is the story of Cora Carlisle, an upper-class Wichita wife who volunteers to be chaperone to Louise Brooks as she attends dance class in New York City. Louise is a headstrong teenager, with an intellect that is shadowed by her sheer beauty. Chaperoning Louise is not an easy task for Cora, who goes to New York to find out some information about her past. That summer, she not only wrestles with Louise about impropriety, but she also wrestles with herself about what’s right and wrong, and how to carry on with life knowing what she knows.
Louise Brooks, you may know (I didn’t), was one of the golden girls of silent film. She is credited with popularizing the bob haircut. Her life in Hollywood was short-lived, mostly due to her extravagant spending, her tumultuous marriages, and the transition to “talkies.” Her success actually began in the summer she attended dance classes. She was picked up by the Denishawn Dance Company after taking their rigorous classes. She also performed in the Ziegfeld Follies. From Hollywood, she went on to make films in Europe. She also wrote, and I’m sure her memoir, Lulu in Hollywood, served as some inspiration for Moriarty.
While there is someone famous in this book, the story is really about Cora. Cora, married to a kind prominent attorney, has recently become an empty-nester. And with the opportunity to go to New York, she jumps at the chance to explore her background. Cora doesn’t know much about herself, orphaned as a teenager by her farming family, but she seeks to find that out on her trip. She not only discovers mu ch about her family. She finds out more about herself, her desires, and her ideals. Louise tests her patience and drives her crazy so in the hours of Louise’s class, more of Cora’s story unfolds and it’s a doozie.
I really enjoyed this book! McGovern did a great job of giving the characters life without a visual. Moriarty made both characters interesting, but also dealt with the common themes of the era, such as Prohibition and the flapper generation while mixing in some issues that I didn’t even think were relevant to the time. I was surprised at some of the turns in Cora’s life, but I thought it was great to give a woman who seems completely “fine” multiple layers to draw from. I thought her transformation was vital to the story, and I like how Moriarty handled it. I also had fun looking up Louise Brooks and hope to one day read her memoir.
Is there any historical fiction that’s been catching you lately?