One of the reason I enjoy reading is that books allow me to time travel, all from the comfort of my couch. Laura Moriarty’s latest novel The Chaperone is a historical fiction about Louise Brooks. Before reading The Chaperone, I knew nothing about the 1920s dancer and silent movie star Louise Brooks. Apparently she made the classic 1920s bob haircut famous.
The Chaperone tells the story from the point of Cora, an older married woman. Cora takes challenging job of chaperoning a fifteen year old Louise Brooks to New York to study with the Denishawn modern dance company, a forerunner to the modern dance movement. Louise’s rebellious nature might not seem so bad to us in present day, but Cora and Louise were living during the Prohibition era. Showing your calves gave your neighbors plenty of gossip fodder. Louise’s bold, flirty manner was considered improper by many.
Cora has ulterior motives for taking on chaperoning duties. She has come to New York City to search for her past. Soon, Louise is accepted into the Denishawn company and goes on tour and Cora returns to quiet Witcha, Kansas. Cora’s experiences in New York has changed her in more ways than she expected. Throughout the years, Cora follows Louise’s career from Witchita.
Moriarty does a great job showing the contrasting views of a nation on the cusp of change. Wichita residents are being wooed by Klu Klux Klan members at assemblies while Louise tricks Cora into seeing a performance of Shuffle Along, the first musical to be written, produced, directed and performed solely by black people. Prohibition versus moonshine. Older women attempting to scare drugstores from selling prophylactics to the general public, i.e. young impressionable teenagers.
Instead of taking the easy way out and telling the story from Louise Brooks’ point of view, Moriarty shows Louise’s life through Cora’s eyes. Seeing Louise through Cora’s compassion makes the actress more likable. Louise becomes a flawed but real person and not a famous, bratty actress dealing with her fifteen minutes of fame.
For me, The Chaperone had a slow start until I learned Cora’s true reason for going to New York. After that, I didn’t want to put the book down.