Cora Carlisle is thirty-six in 1922, the summer that she chaperones a teenaged Louise Brooks throughout the duration of a prestigious summer dance program in New York, in Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone. When we first meet Cora she is married to a wealthy, handsome lawyer, and preparing to send their twin boys off to college. Cora is a bit at loose ends with her boys off working a farm for the summer, but she is surprised when Myra Brooks immediately accepts her offer to care for her daughter. Cora informs her husband of her stay in New York with Louise in no uncertain terms, and it is then that it becomes apparent that the marriage is strained, that Cora has secrets, and isn’t the meek little housewife she seems at first to be. Cora is searching for something that even she can’t define. This summer is her opportunity to investigate what she’s ignored for many years.
I have to admit I didn’t have much desire to read this novel. Not knowing anything about Louise Brooks, few things appealed to me less than reading about her and her summer chaperone. My book club is the reason I picked this up, from the very first pages, I was absorbed with The Chaperone and Cora. Cora’s tale of discovery is both suspenseful and engaging, and though I was equal parts frustrated with her troubled marriage, timidity in disciplining Louise and naivete, I also loved being enmeshed in her world and watching her nascent self-awareness and insight and eventual self-actualization. Moriarty’s writing is charming and atmospheric, and I loved that the turns in Cora’s life were always surprising and a natural next step in her evolution. The Chaperone is compulsively readable. It’s hard to put down once you’ve started it, so make sure you have some time! Highly recommended.