Published June 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: I actually have two copies - one courtesy of the publisher and one I bought to have signed when I saw Moriarty
Soon to be Hollywood starlet, Louise Brooks was only a 15-year-old living in Wichita, Kansas when she was accepted to study at the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York City. Louise's mother, Myra, isn't much of a mother but agrees when her husband demands that Louise have a chaperone for the trip. Myra hires 36-year-old Cora Carlisle for the job. Cora is a wife, mother, and respected member of Wichita society but with her twin boys headed off to college, she has her own reasons for making the trip. Cora is in for much more than she bargained for - bob-haired Louise is every bit as arrogant and strong-willed as her mother led Cora to believe. While Louise is fighting Cora every step of the way, Cora begins to wonder at her own reasons for the beliefs she is trying to foist off onto Louise. Cora's own mission will lead her to make discovers that aren't exactly what she was expecting. Both Louise's and Cora's lives will be changed forever by their time in New York.
"His voice was so commanding, so loud that she complied, or tried to, reaching out for the knob. But her corset was tight against her ribs, and she couldn't breathe. She grabbed the edge of the door frame, believing she would faint, hoping she would faint, if only to escape what was happening, what she had just seen, and fall into nothingness as she had during the twins' birth. But something obstinate in her wouldn't fade out, and wouldn't go down to the ground. She was still conscious, still standing, still horribly aware."
I've waited a couple of weeks to write my review of this book to avoid the gushing I was certain would occur if I wrote it earlier. It may only have saved you from having to read the word "love" repeatedly. Perhaps having seen Moriarty speak before I started the book made a difference; I'm always prone to like a book more when I know the story behind the story. Perhaps it's because I'm a sucker for books that incorporate real people and events into a work of fiction (I'm a huge fan of E.L. Doctorow).
I'm more inclined to believe that I loved this book because it is a wonderfully written book about a woman who overcomes great odds and learns and allows herself to grow with every experience she has. From the young virgin discovering sex with her husband to the woman who champions birth control; from the woman afraid to admit to her husband that she enjoys sex to the woman willing to violate the sexual mores of Wichita; from the woman scandalized when Louise comes home drunk one night in New York to the woman who stands alone against Prohibition - Cora is a woman who grows into her own person as the years pass but never in a way that feels unreal. Moriarty is a force of passion in person and it shows in her writing. She is also a woman who has clearly done her homework and has managed to work it into her novel in a way that never feels forced.
Midway through the book, Moriarty begins making jumps in time after Cora returns to Wichita. It's a shift that might have seemed jarring to readers yet she makes it work seamlessly. I appreciated that Moriarty kept the book moving along and didn't get bogged down trying to feel in all of those time gaps.
I can't say this book was a surprise (reviews I'd read had all been favorable) and yet I struck by how much I liked the book. The Chaperone is a book I will gladly recommend to anyone who asks for books suggestions.
Several weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to read and review The Chaperone by the publisher. Given the reviews I was reading, I was happy to accept. The book arrived and I was swamped with books and life and put it on a shelf where I promptly forgot I had it. When I went to Laura Moriarty at my local indie bookstore, I still didn't remember I had the book and bought myself a hardcover copy to have signed. Which leaves me with an extra copy of the book and you a chance to win a copy. If you live in the U.S., just leave me a comment giving me a women's literature book recommendation by Saturday, July 14 for a chance to win. Good luck!