Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Michael Joseph (26 April 2012)
On a summer’s day in 1922 Cora Carlisle boards a train from Wichita, Kansas, to New York City, leaving behind a marriage that’s not as perfect as it seems and a past that she buried long ago. She is charged with the care of a stunning young girl with a jet-black fringe and eyes wild and wise beyond her fifteen years. This girl is hungry for stardom and Cora for something she doesn’t yet know. Cora will be many things in her lifetime – an orphan, a mother, a wife, a mistress – but in New York she is a chaperone and her life is about to change.
It is here under the bright lights of Broadway, in a time when prohibition reigns and speakeasies with their forbidden whispers behind closed doors thrive, that Cora finds what she has been searching for. It is here, in a time when illicit thrills and daring glamour sizzle beneath the laws of propriety that her life truly begins. It is here that Cora and her charge, Louise Brooks, take their first steps towards their dreams.
This fascinating dip into a fictional female American life, encompassing social history from the 1920’s to 1940’s is told in three parts. Part One is the train journey from Wichita to New York, Part Two the time spent in New York and Part Three Cora at home in Wichita again.
It begins with the reader finding out where Cora is in her life in 1922. Her boys have left home to work before going off to college so leaving her with a new freedom. The opportunity comes to chaperone the silent movie star, Louise Brooks (real character), to New York. Cora has her own personal reasons for wanting to go.
On their train journey to New York, there are triggers that cause us to flashback with Cora to her own life beginning with her childhood up to her marriage. The progressive timeline while travelling in the train and the regression to Cora’s story makes sense as the triggers are happening in the now and link in with a memory of Cora’s from the past.
A third person narrative allows the reader to get under the skin of all the characters in the story. With Louise’ flapper personality and Cora’s staid morality, there are many battles of wills. Louise is such a difficult charge – wilful and arrogant but underneath still a 15 year old girl missing a maternal role model. I have to admit I was surprised to find out the truth about Cora’s marriage knowing how staunch she was in following the rules of the society she lived in!
While Louise is dancing, Cora is on her own mission. What she finds out makes her question her own beliefs and she chooses to start living her life instead of waiting for her life to begin. With this change in Cora, I was intrigued to find out if and how it would affect her life when she returned home to Wichita. I thought the author chose the outcome really well – I didn’t see it coming!
The social history is fascinating. I loved immersing myself in this era and found myself grateful that I have never had to wear a corset! We also get to know about the social history of Wichita in the 1940’s. What a change doubling in size and the opportunities that presented! It would have been an exciting time to be a part of that community.
I think this novel is very creative involving as it does a real character and using the known facts as a means to wrap around a fictional character’s story. I found The Chaperone quite an intense and introspective story (which I love) finding myself picking it up to read and then not being able to put it down. I also dreamt about it! Although it’s not a book I will read again, because of the effect it’s had it on me it is definitely a ‘keeper’. It has all the elements I enjoy in an excellent read – family history, love that survives despite going against societies rules, history and of course a woman on a journey of finding out where she belongs in the world.
The Chaperone is available to purchase:
To find out more about Louise Brooks, I recommend you visit the Louise Brooks Society website.
I would like to thank the publishers, Michael Joseph for providing an uncorrected proof in exchange for an honest review.