Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

From the internationally acclaimed author of Wake comes a haunting story of love, insanity, and revolution set at the brink of the Great War.

Yorkshire, England, 1911: After a moment of defiance at the factory where she has worked since she was a child, Ella Fay finds herself an unwilling patient at the Sharston Asylum. Ella knows she is not mad, but she might have to learn to play the game before she can make a true bid for freedom. John Mulligan is a chronic patient, frozen with grief since the death of his child, but when Ella runs towards him one morning in an attempt to escape the place where he has found refuge, everything changes. It is in the ornate ballroom at the centre of the asylum, where the male and female patients are allowed to gather every Friday evening to dance, that Ella and John begin a tentative, secret correspondence that will have shattering consequences, as love and the possibility of redemption are set against one ambitious doctor's eagerness to make his mark in the burgeoning field of eugenics, at all costs. Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, at a time when England was at the point of revolt, The Ballroom is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.


I have always held a fascination for asylums of old, those secret places where the mentally afflicted were housed away from society. The Ballroom by Anna Hope gave me a glimpse inside such a place. The asylum is set near the Yorshire moors and takes place in the early 1900's. Wonderful descriptions and utterly fascinating characters made this story truly bloom. 

Sharston asylum is a bleak, dreary place, rampant with abuses. And not everyone who is housed within is insane. 

Ella was brought there because she broke a window in the mill where she worked because the windows were painted over to prevent workers from looking outdoors. 

Charles is the bandmaster at Sharston. He is not an inmate, but an employee who prefers being a musician rather than taking his exams to be a doctor. 

Clemency was brought there by her father and brother because she refused to marry the man they had chosen for her. 

And then there's John, a loner who is housed in the chronic ward where there is little hope inmates will heal enough to be released. He is tasked with digging the graves for inmates - six coffins atop each other per grave. When he's not digging, he's working the asylum's farm. 

Within the asylum's hopeless and dark corridors resides a gem - an elegant ballrom where certain patients are rewarded with a social dance. It is there where the four characters interact and meet, their futures colliding.

If you want to read a book that will tweak your emotions, then this is the book for you. Highly recommended.

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