The unabridged, downloadable audiobook edition of Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone, read by the actress Elizabeth McGovern, best-known for her role as Cora, Countess of Grantham, in the hit TV series Downton Abbey.
On a summer's day in 1922, Cora Carlisle boards a train from Wichita, Kansas, to New York City, leaving behind a marriage that's not as perfect as it seems and a past that she buried long ago.
She is charged with the care of a stunning young girl with a jet-black fringe and eyes wild and wise beyond her 15 years. This girl is hungry for stardom, and Cora is hungry for something she doesn't yet know.
Cora will be many things in her lifetime - an orphan, a mother, a wife, a mistress - but in New York she is a chaperone and her life is about to change. It is here, under the bright lights of Broadway, in a time when prohibition reigns and speakeasies with their forbidden whispers behind closed doors thrive, that Cora finds what she has been searching for. It is here, in a time when illicit thrills and daring glamour sizzle beneath the laws of propriety that her life truly begins. It is here that Cora and her charge, Louise Brooks, take their first steps towards their dreams.
©2012 Laura Moriarty (P)2012 Penguin Books Ltd
Most of the audiobooks I listen to tend to be classics or things I have already read; since I often listen while doing housework, I find it helpful to know the story, and like to know I will enjoy listening to it before buying. Unusually for me, I bought Laura Moriarty's "The Chaperone" on spec, mainly because I have liked the narrator, Elizabeth McGovern, as an actress for many years, and because, having read a biography of the film star Louise Brooks, one of the main characters, I was intrigued by the idea of a fictional treatment of her life. In fact, Louise is a largely tangential character; the novel, which is a solid written piece of what might be termed "women's fiction", is really about the "chaperone" of the title, a 36 year old married woman called Cora Carlisle, who accompanies the teenaged Louise to New York when she goes there to study dancing, and whose own life is unexpectedly changed in the process.
The real life Louise Brooks seems to have been a brittle, damaged woman, whose great beauty, talent and enormous intelligence tapped right into the zeitgeist of the 1920s and catapulted her into a brief but meteoric career as a movie star. Laura Moriarty captures this difficult personality well when writing about the teenaged Louise, and one can relate to the unfortunate Cora's frustration with her wayward charge. But Cora, an intelligent, kind, but rather uptight woman, has come to New York with an agenda of her own, and when she returns to the orphanage where she grew up in search of her origins, she finds herself learning far more about herself than she has expected. While some of her subsequent life choices seem a little startling (and frankly hard to believe considering how conventional the character is at the start), the author is commendably even-handed and compassionate towards her characters. It would be easy, for example for her to have made villains of Cora's husband, who married her under false pretences and betrayed her, or the nuns who ran the orphanage from whence Cora was adopted (in a time when stories about adoption so often focus on cruelty towards the relinquishing mothers, the author's measured descriptions of the whys and wherefores of the adoption policies of the early 20th century are thankfully spot on). Even Louise's narcissistic, neglectful mother, surely the most unsympathetic character in the entire book, gets a fair hearing, which it seems doubtful she deserves.
Elizabeth McGovern gives an insensitive and intelligent reading of this imaginitive and unusual novel, and is a delight to listen to. I am happy to recommend this book, and hope others enjoy it as much as I did.
"America 1926 Louise Brooks early years in New York"
Fictional account of
Louise Brooks escape from the mid west to New York to train for the stage as a dancer.
Told by the middle aged chaperone who accompanies her to escape her unhappy marriage, she discovers love for the first time with a German immigrant who she dislikes on sight while revisiting the convent she was left in as an orphan.
Louise is determined to succeed and never return home and the chaperone does not want to either. She is on a mission to discover her origins from the convent and leaves happier with her new lover and lives happily ? ever after. . .in a new frame of mind with a freer attitude learned from Louise whose love of life, intelligence and energy sparkle; gives the chaperone courage to make demands at home and live her life the way she wants, instead of conforming to the narrow confines of housewifery and non sex life with her homosexual husband.
Fast, jazz hot, sweltering New York leaps off the page as does the slow pace of small town America where everyone knows your business. The book delves into black segregation on
Broadway and immigrant poverty, middle class hypocrisy, alcoholism, unhappy marriage and church.
I absolutely loved it.
"Frothy nostalgic fun"
This is excellently read by Elizabeth McGovern, immediately recognisable from Downton Abbey, whose warm southern cadences are easy to engage with. The story brings tobgether an eclectic cast of characters and doesn't fare well under too close examination in terms of plot credibility, but it is light-hearted fun and in the end a good yarn to entertain you whilst you drive, walk the dog or hang out the washing!
"I was lost in this book: the narration is outstanding"
This is an extraordinary book. It is utterly absorbing - I was transported. Above all Elizabeth McGovern's narration is exceptional - she acts it out in such a wonderful way and her voice is soothing and beguiling. This is a gripping and uplifting book - I was transported by the narration - I WISH she did more books! Really up there in the Juliet Stevenson league!! Cora is a wonderful character and her story is utterly unexpected and compelling - a perfect evocation all of time and place. I am recommending it to everyone....
the twists and turns and the way it evokes the ebbs and flows of progression through life.
I would have preferred to hear a little more of Cora's feistiness in an otherwise excellent performance.
Was not sure about this as I started to listen. But in the end I was drawn in. A very unusual theme, that played out not in a way I was expecting. A good listen.
No. Several sessions,
Would recommend this for a different read.
I don't know, as I haven't read it.
The private moments between Cora and Joseph are so carefully and sensitively portrayed. Understated, but laiden with love and understanding.
No, but I will seek them out. Her reading is exquisite
Riveting listening, I hated having to put my ipod down.
"Interesting story, beautifully told"
I could hardly bear to hit the pause button when listening to The Chaperone. The story was gripping, the characters absorbing and Elizabeth McGovern's narration just perfect. The changing attitudes towards gender, sexuality and morality are wonderfully portrayed during Cora's long and truly fascinating life. It's a wonderful book and highly recommended!
This story has some good surprises and gives you a real feeling of the period the first half of the book is set in. I enjoyed the narration, each character really came to life. The only reason this isn't 5 out of 5 is because towards the end of the story it feels as if the author is rushing to an end.
"Narration a Disappointment"
An interesting book, but unfortunately I feel the narration let it down. Although I like Elizabeth McGovern in Downtown Abbey, I felt her reading was awkward and that they story and characters would have been improved by a more natural cadence.
A really good story. I couldn't put it down. Elizabeth McGovern narrated it really well. Recommended.
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