I received this book twice. Once as an audiobook, pretty much unsolicited, and once as a hardbook which pretty much was. It wasn’t hard to pick which one to read. My decision to listen was pretty easy, when I saw that Elizabeth McGovern, Cora from Downton Abbey, read the book. I mean, really, the choice was so completely EASY. And, when I started the book, it was love at first listen. Publishers, please get Elizabeth McGovern to read all the books.
The Chaperone starts in 1920s Wichita, Kansas with Cora Coffman Carlisle escorting a 15-year-old aspiring dancer and actress named Louise Brooks to New York to attend a dance class with a prestigious dance school. This is Louise Brooks:
Yes, she was a real person. Louise Brooks was a silent film star in the 20s and 30s, whose career petered out with the advent of talkies. Louise was a wild, arrogant, beautiful girl who cared little for what people thought or said about her. Cora, 36, with a peculiar innocence one wouldn’t expect from a married 36-year-old mother of twins to have. Cora is extremely naive. She’s very…trained…in how she should act, how she should dress, what she should think…the way most women were in these times. Louise is a shock, or a breath of fresh air, depending on how you look at it. As they travel to New York and as they move through the city, the narrative flashes back and forward between present and Cora’s past and we learn just why she is so innocent, so…complacent. The summer brings unexpected changes for Cora, thanks to her experiences with Louise, unexpected changes that will have affects for years to come. Without a doubt, Louise changes Cora for good.
I honestly don’t want to say much more than that. Cora is a completely amazing, complicated, stubborn character, who undergoes what I think is best called a coming-of-age in New York. Her worldview shifts into something unexpected and completely fascinating. Elizabeth McGovern’s narration is so perfect. She IS Cora for me. If they ever make a movie of this book, they should get her. Being from the mid-West, she has the accent and I know she could pull of Cora’s poise. Her voice is so soothing, yet can deepen and roughen depending on the sex of the character in a convincing way. Simply put she is marvelous and I’m already bemoaning the fact that I can only find two more audiobooks she’s read. McGovern outshines any problems I have with this novel.
Because there are a couple. Moriarty’s writing has come a long way. I read her first book ages ago and, while I enjoyed that book (The Center of Everything), I wasn’t bowled over by it. The Chaperone shows a lot of growth, in my opinion. A few of her characters feel a little one-note in this novel, but Cora shines in such a way that it almost doesn’t matter. Several fade to the background; Alan, Cora’s husband in particular feels forgotten at times. The twins, so important to Cora and her character, rarely appear in the story. I would have liked to have seen them more, but, since this IS about Cora, it’s a minor quibble. Honestly, I think my opinion of the book is strongly influenced by just how much I enjoyed Elizabeth McGovern’s reading, however all in all, The Chaperone was an great read that I’m pretty sure will stay with me for quite awhile.
Many thanks to Penguin for sending me both copies of this book! I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club for my review but all opinions expressed are my own.