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The Chaperone: Book Review

August 2, 2012

The Chaperone
Laura Moriarty
Penguin Books

The Chaperone is historical fiction twice over. Some of the story takes place during Prohibition, just after World War I, on the cusp of the flapper movement. And some of the story, set in 1961, looks back at those earlier years.
The historical settings and the way they shaped characters were what I enjoyed most about this book. The Chaperone tells the story of two women living in Wichita and then making a trip to New York, prim housewife Cora Carlisle, and young, talented dancer Louise Brooks. Louise has just been accepted into the prestigious Denishawn dance company in New York city. And, as a young, unmarried girl, she needs a chaperone. Cora has her own reasons for making the trip as well- she wants to learn more about her past.

Over the course of the novel, each of the characters revealed secrets, elements of their past or their desires that shifted my expectations and surprised me in a few spots. Cora’s marriage to Alan looks perfect on the surface as the story begins, though its complexities and secrets are revealed. And at first, Cora and Louise look like adversaries, emblems of generational transition with nothing in common.

Seeing New York through Cora’s eyes made me focus on some of the tiny details of the setting. Cora, walking the unfamiliar city, sweltering under her corset (ugh, I can’t imagine wearing a corset on a stifling subway platform- or for that matter, an un-air-conditioned subway car.) And there was a description of walking around New York, feeling like a traveler and a disconnected stranger, that just about broke my heart with how true it felt.
Cora has a lot of time to kill in New York while Louise is in her lessons. I kept telling myself I’d do some walking where Cora walked, to make a sort of photo map for some of the other BlogHer Book Club folks, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I might still do it.

If this novel hadn’t had a historical setting, I’m not sure I would have read a book focused so tightly on characters’ relationships, and on Cora’s interior life and emotional landscape. But, with the way the characters transform over the course of the book, I’m glad I read it after all.

I am being compensated for my honest review of this book by the BlogHer Book Club.

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