Review – The Chaperone
by Laura Moriarty (Riverhead Books 2012)
Fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks, a few years before she becomes famous as a silent screen actress, leaves Wichita for New York City with a chaperone, Cora Carlisle. Cora is neither family nor friend and has volunteered to chaperone this feisty teenager for propriety’s sake and because she has some reasons of her own to visit New York.
I didn’t know much about Louise Brooks before this book and I think I would like to see some of her pictures and definitely read her biography, Lulu in Hollywood. She is fascinating, precocious, driven and uncontrollable. She is kind of like the first female rock star with her behavior and how shocking she was for her time.
But this book is really about Cora and her journey. She follows society’s way of thinking, is upstanding and tries to teach Louise how to act and what to do and say in the few weeks they are together, but ultimately realizes she needs to look internally before she is fit to do any teaching.
“There was something entitled in the girls voice, something proud and unthinking.” (pg 40)
Oh Cora, if only she could see how today’s kids treat most everyone… Louise is a handful and is NOT respectful at all. She thinks Cora is ridiculous, rolls her eyes, basically hates her and tries to act as shocking as possible. She does what she wants to get attention and ultimately get what she wants.
Ultimately Cora does realize she herself is being taught by Louise.
“The young can exasperate, of course, and frighten, and condescend, and insult, and cut you with their still unrounded edges. But they can also drag you, as you protest and scold and try to pull away, right up to the window of the future, and even push you through.” (pg 157)
Cora, at 36 years old grows up and into herself. In a way, it is her coming of age as she begins to understand herself and her desires and realizes that you have to fight for what you want sometimes and not let life and your family, friends, expectations and society’s morays steamroll you into an automaton sleepwalking through a half existence.
She’d always assumed that this first, unremembered loss, even before she was sent out on the train, was the root of her unhappiness. (pg258) She’d lived too much of her life so stupidly, following nonsensical rules, as if she and he, as if anyone, had all the time in the world. (pg 273)
What this book really did for me, was help me further understand my grandparents from their silent generation, and make me wonder what we don’t know about their lives! We here in the US are encouraged to spill everything we are feeling, thinking and have experienced, but it wasn’t always like that. This book shows a juxtaposition of the WWI & depression era generation with the flappers and jazz age kids who flaunted and exposed because it was real, not just expected.
On a side note, I personally have never ever felt such loneliness until I moved to New York and didn’t know hardly anyone and really didn’t know the city yet. It is a great way to find out who you are. Moriarty captures that beautifully.
“But even then, even in her wonder, she couldn’t help but think that from up in the high and quiet, behind the glass of the observation booth, the city finally looked and sounded as apart from her as it felt.” (pg 201)
The book spans Cora’s life, and while it was interesting to see what she does and where everyone ends up at the end, it rambled a little bit for me and lost some steam. I called it “floppy” at bookclub and everyone agreed. But other than that, I really enjoyed this book. It illuminated and it didn’t answer every question about Cora’s life to make the reader think and guess and, I assume, to make it closer to real life. I would recommend it, it was wonderful, has many more themes than I mentioned and really does make you think, 4 black and white stars bouncing around making faces to the happy sounds of the orchestra, enjoy the icy air and listen to the audience laugh.