The eponymous chaperone in this book is Cora, a 1920s Witchita housewife who agrees to chaperone the beautiful but rebellious and wild Louise Brookes in New York for a summer. While in New York, Cora embarks on a journey of self-discovery with unexpected results. Also, and this is repeated a lot of times in the text so it must be very important, women wore corsets and they were very uncomfortable. Repeated many times, a very clear indication that an author doesn’t think very highly of her audience.
I’m a bit late to the game on this one – The Chaperone was a Christmas 2011 stocking filler, and it’s easy to see why. On holiday is the perfect time to read this light-as-a-feather book, preferably borrowed from the library because it’s definitely not worthy of a second read. The problem with this novel is that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be – is it a woman at the end of her life recounting an eventful summer? Is it the story of an ordinary woman’s life and loves and the New York trip is an introduction to the tale? Because of the lack of clear motivation, the structure of this book is fatally flawed. For me it felt like the book should have finished once Cora returned to Witchita but it went on and on and on in an increasingly unlikely series of events, ending in one of the most improbable conclusions I’ve ever read in a novel. As I mentioned earlier, I also felt that Moriarty has a fairly poor opinion of the intellect of her readers – over the course of the summer Cora is reading The Age of Innocence. Moriarty doesn’t want anyone to miss the references to the book so makes explicit multiple times why it’s relevant that Cora is reading that text, turning a literary reference that should enhance the reading experience into a series of really irritating moments that jarred the reader from the story.
The verdict: Three stars. This book is not particularly good but it’s not awful either. It’s very middle of the road, just like its main protagonist.
Noteworthy: Wichita is a really great name for a town. More books should be set there to give me a chance to say “Wichita” more often.
Similar but better: Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning The Blind Assassin.