Everyone and their mother is reading this book right now, so I hopped on the bandwagon this weekend and zoomed right through it. Going into the book, I thought the story was about Louise Brooks – famous silent film actress, featured on the book’s cover – and the summer she first went to NYC. But it’s not, really. Louise Brooks does go to NYC, but this book is all about Cora, her chaperone there (hence the title). Cora has her own reasons to go to NYC, connected with her distant past.
I’m afraid I wasn’t as impressed with this book as everyone else seems to be. There were definitely good things about it. It was very readable, and I was hooked by Cora’s story instantly. I liked how the part about her past panned out, not perfect and not unrealistic. I liked her development as a person as well.
Unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good for me. There were a lot of little things that bugged me, so I’m just going to list them out.
–I’m not sure Louise Brooks was really needed to make this book work. She felt more like a vehicle, and a far-fetched one at times, particularly in the last third of the book. Cora’s relationship with her never felt all that real, and Cora’s story would have worked just as well if she’d chaperoned some fictional girl no one’s ever heard of to NYC.
–I personally have a bit of trouble believing fictional accounts of how real people acted (not just in this book, but any book based on real people). While I know many of the things said about Louise in this book are true, the very negative way she was portrayed feels unfair, since she’s not around to defend herself. That could be my ignorance, since I don’t know nearly as much about her as the author, I’m sure, but this is always how I feel when I read books that seriously portray real-life people.
–Most of the book was told in third-person limited POV, sticking with Cora, but periodically, it would shift into an omniscient narrator, talking about how years later Cora would do things or feel things differently because of what was going on in the story now. That was jarring every time.
–The majority of the book takes place in the 1920s, which was a very transitional time in American history. While historical background in a book must be realistic about these things, and have them as part of the atmosphere, I think The Chaperone tried to make too many of them part of the foreground of the book. It almost felt like a checklist, with a section for everything: prohibition, war, racial integration, religious conflict, women’s lib, homosexuality, and so on.
–Lastly, I felt the book stretched out way too long. Not the book length itself, but the timeline. Most of the story is about one summer in 1922, but then the last few chapters rush through sixty years of time. None of this felt necessary or relevant to me, and seemed mostly a tool to see what Louise Brooks was up to in that time. Since Louise never felt like a major part of the book to me, as I said above, I wished the book had just cut off before the rush of time.
Now, I doubt most of those things would bother other readers. The book has gotten great reviews and a lot of people really love it. I wish I had loved it too, but unfortunately, I didn’t. Having said that, though, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the book to others. I do think it’s a book that many people can connect with, and even for me, though I didn’t end up loving it at the end, it was easy to read and hooked my attention from the beginning. I don’t mean to make it sound all bad. It certainly wasn’t, and I did really like the first half of the book. The negatives just ended up outweighing the positives for me by the end.