I put off reading this novel for months because of two factors: 1. the synopsis on the back of the book, and 2. the cover. In my defense, The Lost Prince had a similar cover, and as you are all well aware, I’m sure, The Lost Prince is one of the most painful reading experiences that I have ever endured. Ever. As for the synopsis, Audible provided me with the following plot summary: “The Chaperone is a captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922, and the summer that would change them both.” This sentence does no favors for The Chaperone; it does not convey the components of a “captivating,” novel, but instead suggests a light-hearted, whimsical, coming-of- age tale set in the roaring twenties of New York City. In reality, the novel is irresistibly good, told with a patience and grace that is sometimes hard to come by in the realm of fiction.
Fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks has been accepted into the Denishawn School of Dancing in New York City. Since neither of her parents have any interest in accompanying the girl, they recruit Cora Carlisle to supervise the trip and their daughter. At thirty-six, Cora’s two sons are grown, and her marriage, although stable, leaves something to be desired. Excited by this adventurous opportunity, Cora eagerly agrees. Louise is self-righteous and indignant, but the two develop a tolerance for one another as they each indulge in city life.
I can sympathize with Audible’s attempts to neatly categorize The Chaperone. Spanning over fifty years, Moriarty painstakingly illustrates the aching details of Cora’s life before, during, and after the rise of Louise Brooks. Moriarty precisely relates the language, attire, and attitudes of the 1920s, and allows us a glimpse into a lifestyle that seems so foreign in this age of (intended) equal rights. One particularly intriguing detail is that of the corset that Cora endures throughout the first half of the novel. A wardrobe essential at the time, Cora is unable to pick up dropped items, over-eat, or even sit comfortably, and yet the prospect of being seen in public without the corset is completely taboo to her. Although she eventually abandons the undergarment, the parallel between the confining device and the restricted role of women is well-placed, albeit a bit clichéd.
Moriarty’s writing is perfectly paced with a beautiful, poetic use of language. Similarly, the narrator of the audiobook, Elizabeth McGovern, is an ideal reader. Her serene, even tone pairs seamlessly with the author’s style, yet still manages to leave listeners desperate to hear what will happen next. This is the second exceptionally good book that I’ve read in a row – I hope this isn’t an omen of bad things to come.