Having loved Anna Hope’s debut novel Wake I was really looking forward to reading her second novel The Ballroom.
It is set in 1911 at Sharston Asylum on the Yorkshire moors. Charles is a doctor who has an interest in music. He gets a position there and his wish is to improve the lives of the patients. He decides to play in an orchestra every Friday evening, patients are selected to attend so that they can have a dance. It is the only time that they get to meet patients who are the opposite sex.
John and Ella are just two of the patients there, and they meet on one of these evenings. John was very reluctant to attend. He is at the asylum after tragedy affects his personal life. Ella has been admitted after breaking a window at the asylum where she had worked since she was eight years old. She had only wanted to see the sky. Both of them have good friends in Dan and Clem. Dan is a bit of a rebel, a seaman who yearns for his freedom. Clem is happy with her books and is one of the few who has family visitors. John and Ella start to fall in love and try to make contact away from the dance. They are helped in this by Dan and Clem. At the same time Charles has become obsessed with John and is also following with great interest the debate in Parliament regarding eugenics.
A fascinating book to read. I thought that most of the blame when disaster struck was down to Charles. A man, very unhappy in his personal life who couldn’t be honest about his feelings. He feels under more pressure and gets vindictive with his decisions. I enjoyed the love story between John and Ella. Two people who shouldn’t have been there and trying their hardest to be together. But the most fascinating character for me was Clem. I thought her role in the novel was amazing, I don’t want to reveal why. To do so will be a spoiler but she will be the character who I will think about for a while. There also all the minor characters, some who remained nameless but all essential to the setting and they all felt real. I liked the way it ended, it was a bit of a surprise but it worked and was very fitting.
I knew that people were placed in asylums that shouldn’t have been, I was told stories throughout my teens about why people, especially women ended up there. Thankfully attitudes have changed.
With thanks to Alison Barrow for the copy received.