Just a few years before exploding onto the screen as a silent movie mega-star Louise Brooks came to New York to study at a dance school. It was the summer that would change her life forever… and the life of her chaperone, Cora Carlisle. Although Louise thinks her a boring rube, the truth is that Cora is a complicated woman and she’s coming to New York for more interesting reasons than spoiled, outrageous Louise could ever imagine.
Moriarty’s book sparkles as the reader comes to know Cora, who grew up for part of her life in a New York orphanage and came on an orphan train to Kansas where she met a family she loved and lived with. At their deaths, she met a charming lawyer, who wasn’t all he seemed and married him, bearing him two sons. Life has been both kind and terrible to Cora, but one thing has always lingered as a constant question in her life. Who is she? Where did she come from? She hopes chaperoning Louise will give her a chance to go back to the orphanage and uncover the answers.
Of course supervising Louise, who is bursting to break free, even at just fifteen, provides more challenges than Cora could have planned for. And finding her past, as well as seeing life through Louise’s bright eyes, makes her reconsider her present life and a future she could have never foreseen.
I was on the edge of my seat during all of this. The writing is glorious, the character of Cora is sympathetic and has strength she doesn’t even recognize. Even Louise, with all her flaws, is a fascinating girl on the cusp of a life that will be filled with both rocketing highs and sinking lows.
But the book does have its flaws. The point where Louise is accepted as a permanent member of the dance academy and Cora goes home feels abrupt and after so many battles, I wanted more finality between them. And then there are the parts of the book back in Kansas. Yes, it’s interesting to see the unexpected turns Cora’s life takes in the next fifty-plus years, but after a rich, cohesive narrative, those short glimpses into Cora’s later life feel disjointed and sometimes unnecessary. But on the whole, The Chaperone tells a really marvelous, unique story that kept me turning the pages. I give it four-stars.