Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Chaperone - Laura Moriarty - Penguin

When I first got this, I admit, I was tempted to pass the book straight to my Wife. Chic Lit! Not worth the time. Then she read it, told me all about it and I though "mmmm ok, maybe I should be less harsh and have a read. Give it a chapter or two, see where it goes." The 1920's are de rigueur again. The Musical 'Chicago' is on the stage constantly, recent screenings of "Underbelly" was set in the "gin club" era and then there's "Boardwalk Empire". So - plenty in our faces. Good place to dive in to the world of the '20's but this time with less crime and more time - so to speak! So with her shiny black bob and milky skin, our heroine Louise Brooks epitomizes the silent-film glamorous femme. However, in Laura Moriarty's engaging new novel The Chaperone, Brooks is really just a hyper-precocious and bratty 15-year-old. And the protagonist, the 36-year-old Cora Carlisle has unenviable task of keeping said missy in line (read 'virtuous') while on a tour from their native Kansas to the Big Apple (that modern den of vices!). After many battles of wills, there's a sudden change of destiny for both character, with it would seem surprising and poignant results. Apart from the slightly pious approach, I still at first find it hard to believe Brooks is a teen of the day. Somehow she seems to be too modern for my liking. This of course is because Moriarty needs to connect with the modern audience, I get that. However, I still think there's a need to understand how the 15 year old of the 1920's really behaved - authenticity is very important to the story. What it The Chaperone does show is that for women to adhere to ideological restrictions over their bodies, they had to inhabit a permanently suspicious and overly-eroticised mindset. They had to be looking out for the slightest signs of sexual intent in others and in themselves, all the time. Every man was a predator, every encounter a possible flirtation to be avoided. The attitude they had to adopt wasn’t sensible or realistic at all, and rather than enhance a woman’s purity, it kept her thinking about sex and its disgustingness continually. The alteration that Cora’s attitude undergoes in New York enables her to make bold choices about herself, and to find a life that fits her properly, unlike her corset that squeezes her into the acceptable shape. It is very easy for the characters to fall into the demure "Little Women" cliché' or the role model of a rebel like "Pippy Long Stockings" an outrageous youth who kicks against the pricks and makes fun of the starch and flannel of the day. Yet hats off do go to Moriarty for keeping the plot at the helm of her novel and steering a course through this environment. At the end you will still agree this is not a new thing you've read, but the journey was pleasant and there's something to be said for that.

1 comment:

  1. This is a book that looks at the growing pains being experienced by the United States in the early 20th century with citizens confronting everything from the KKK and prohibition to illicit sexual relationships and the display and sale of prophylactics in drug stores. I don't really want to get into the specifics of the story itself and how various events impact the lives of Cora and Louise as they follow their respective dreams, since that could lessen the reader's individual enjoyment and thrill of discovery.