The Ballroom by Anna Hope
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors,
where men and women are kept apart
by high walls and barred windows,
there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week
they come together
When John and Ella meet
It is a dance that will change
two lives forever.
Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.
Beautifully written, this is an emotional love story that takes place in 1911 in an Asylum set on the moors in Yorkshire.
Once a week, on Friday's, the male and female patients are allowed to meet at a dance arranged for them in a beautiful ballroom in the asylum. The central character Ella Fay finds herself admitted to Sharston Asylum when she is taken from the mill she works in after she breaks a window and is accused of damaging machinery. Horrifying realism of what it must have been like at the turn of the century for those unfortunate people who found themselves thrown into the asylum often for next to no reason. Anna Hope manages to convey the fear, frustration and hopelessness of Ella's situation as she desperately comes to realise unless she conforms she may never get of of there. She makes friends with Clem who like Ella really shouldn't have been put in the asylum but who becomes so damaged by being there she knows she will never get out. Clem bonds with Ella and contributes to her communicating with John, keeping secrets and helping her.
Written from the viewpoints of Ella, John and Dr Charles Fuller who admits the patients, this shapes the story and blurs the lines between madness and sanity. Dr Fuller is seriously flawed hiding demons of his own and these seem to surface when he is taken ill and is overcome by his inadequacies and turmoil over his sexuality causing a kind of madness that would have made him a candidate for the asylum had his position in society been different. It is this madness that colours his actions in the latter part of the book and drives him towards a dangerous path - a sinister villain indeed!
The relationship between Ella and John is borne out of loneliness, desire and hope of freedom. Powerfully and gently written this is truly a great piece of writing, it reminded me of those much read novels such as Of Mice and Men and To Kill A Mocking Bird, deeply moving and evocative. The memory of this will stay with me for a long time - a well deserved 5 stars and grateful thanks to Transworld/Penguin Publishers for sending this in exchange for an honest review.