In 1922, Cora Carlisle, a housewife and mother to two grown boys, agrees to chaperone a fifteen year old dancer to New York City for the summer. The teenager is Louise Brooks, the not yet famous silent film actress. Louise has her own ideas about New York City and they don’t include a stick in the mud chaperone. Louise wants excitement, gin, and men eating out of her hand. Cora has her own agenda for the trip which is revealed in flashbacks throughout the story. By the end of the trip, secrets are brought to light and Cora makes some major changes in her life.
The book is titled The Chaperone because although Louise Brooks is the reason for the trip to New York City the story is all about Cora. I enjoyed learning about her as the story progressed so I won’t say to much about her background or her life so that you can experience that yourself. I will say that sometimes I laughed, with Louise, over her naivety. It’s sad actually that Cora saw the world the way that she did. She didn’t have much choice in it since she lived with Prohibition a long time as well as the popular attitudes towards sex. And, well, her marriage wasn’t all that it should have been. Louise on the other hand is all too knowledgeable for the wrong reasons. They both are a reflection for the times: bathtub gin and Prohibition, Flappers and corsets, all incongruous.
Since the book is The Chaperone, I expected the story to wrap up after her chaperonage was over, instead the book continued right up until the end of Cora’s life. It’s not that I didn’t like this continuation but it was like it was another book. A sequel? Cora was reading The Age of Innocence during the summer, and commented at one point about what an idiot Newland was for tossing away his chance at happiness. She thought it was a stupid ending for a book (yep). Once Cora decides to pursue her own happiness, I thought that was it. I was surprised to see so much book left! I would have been totally satisfied with an epilogue or even just turn it off with a sigh and think, “I wonder how it all worked out?” I guess I expect books to end that way. The last 50 years of her life felt like it had been crammed in there. Still, that didn’t keep me from bawling at the end.
About the Audio: The Chaperone is narrated by Elizabeth MacGovern, aka Lady Cora Crawley. So a Cora is narrating another Cora’s thoughts. Hrr? I was a little thrown by that at first. I kept imagining Lady Crawley at the dinner table reacting in shock over something Lady Sybil said. MacGovern is a good choice since she plays a character of that era anyway. I enjoyed her Kansas accents.