Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty~★★★★

Author: Laura Moriarty
Title: The Chaperone
Release Date: July 5, 2012
Publisher: Penguin Audio, read by Elizabeth McGovern
Genre: Fiction

Audiobook Cover: "Only a few years before becoming a famous actress, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita to make it big in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle is a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip. She has no idea what she's in for: young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob and bangs, is known for her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will change their lives forever. 
For Cora, New York holds the promise of self-discovery, and even as she does her best to watch Louise in a strange and bustling city, she embarks on her own mission. While what she finds isn't what she anticipated, it liberates her in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of the summer, Cora's eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive." 

Taryn's Review: This book was much more about Cora Carlisle than it ever was about Louise Brooks, although I am glad for the mention of Louise; to be honest, I'd not heard of her before listening to this book! I love when books inspire you to learn more about other subjects, and this book definitely gave the reader lots of subjects to think about. I've even already watched a portion from a BBC documentary on the life of Louise Brooks!

Laura Moriarty did a great job highlighting the complex tangles of etiquette that Cora Carlisle found herself navigating throughout her lifetime. Cora, as many people do, understood her life within those strict confinements and sought to teach Louise a lesson about why those rules were so important. Interestingly, those same rules were turned around on Cora and she found herself questioning the world in which she lived and why it was so important for her to live a certain way.

The book began slowly, but once Cora and Louise set out for New York City, I was hooked. Cora's background was explained via flashbacks during their train ride and throughout the trip. Cora's desire to go to New York City was to gain an explanation for her childhood, but I did wonder why Cora couldn't have made the trip with her husband at any other time in her life...why did it take Louise needing a chaperone for Cora to finally go to New York City? I understood that Cora would not have went alone (as she initially saw women without companions on the street as "immoral" women), but her husband Allen was rather wealthy, so taking a trip to the city wouldn't have been impractical given their economic standing. Without giving away spoilers, I saw many other reviewers question why Cora acted so hastily in New York City. From my perspective, Cora had no choice but to act hastily. She had limited time in New York and when she recognized that she had the chance to live a life in Wichita that made her happy, she took it. Her reasoning for the new life situation was a great alibi that no one in Kansas would be able to question, and it gave her a comfort that would had never arisen for her in Wichita.

Elizabeth McGovern (aka Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey) read the book and what an excellent job she did. I was thoroughly impressed with McGovern's skillful reading/acting. In one particular scene, McGovern beautifully narrated between the pain in Cora's hysterical voice and Allen's unapologetic, practiced speech. I may have shed a few tears during that interaction.

While I really enjoyed this book, the scope in which the book undertook seemed too long. The story continued long after Cora's return from her 1922 summer in New York City all the way though the 1970s. I can see how Moriarty wanted to show how drastically the world around Cora changed in those years, but in this case, the book should have closed much earlier, maybe on the train ride back to Kansas. I think it would have made an excellent sequel to continue Cora's life story after her NYC trip, and it also would have allowed for more details through the passing years both individually and socially for Cora.

Laura Moriarty put out an engaging book and I was delighted to listen to it each day (Elizabeth McGovern deserves praise for keeping me interested, too!). It's definitely a book that will capture your attention and keep you guessing what will happen next! The story also touched on topics that were very captivating and thought-provoking, and such sensitive subjects never felt forced thanks to Moriarty's skillful writing ability. I believe this is her 4th novel, so I will definitely not hesitate to read another Moriarty work.

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