The Ballroomby Anna Hope

Published September 6th 2016 by McClelland & Stewart

5 Stars

Synopsis: Where love is your only escape ….

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
and dance.
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.

My Review: The Ballroom by Anna Hope was inspired by an ancestor who had been admitted to an asylum in the early 1900s and eventually died there. She did research about an asylum in England on the edge of the Yorkshire moors and between those two things, she created this story. This is a beautifully written book with incredibly believable characters. The more historical fiction I read, the more I think that our history is nothing but dark, horrifying events, that hopefully we learn from. This novel touches on the topic of Eugenics and how many countries, England being one of them, pondered the legalities of forced sterilization of people having genetic defects or undesirable traits. It also deals with the many people who were institutionalized for various reasons that should not have been. The time is 1911 and the asylum was beautifully built, relatively self-sufficient and had an exquisite ballroom which was seldom used.

The story is told from the perspective of three characters. Ella Fay was a young woman who had been admitted after breaking a window in the factory she worked in. Working from morning to night, she just wanted to see the sun. She was admitted to Shaston for “hysteria”, a common one used for women, anything out of the ordinary that your husband/father or employer thought was inappropriate. John Mulligan was an Irish man who had suffered the loss of his family. He ended up in a workhouse, then Sharston asylum because there was no other place for the city to put him. He was labelled with various things, one being laziness or intemperance. He was a good worker and was used to dig mass graves, work in the fields etc. Charles Fuller was a doctor who started off as a character that I very much liked. He tried to use music to get the patients to feel better. He started dances where the males and females actually came together instead of the segregation they live in. He was getting positive results until a trip to London. This is where the Eugenics comes in. It is very scary to read about what the beliefs were at that time. John and Ella fall meet at the dances, communicate via notes and fall in love. One night they manage to sneak out and spend the time together. These characters are so well written that you feel that you know them, are there with them and going through the same things they are experiencing. The secondary characters are just as well written. You will read details about the atrocities and lack of kindness common in asylums. You meet patients and your heart breaks for them. The romance in the story is tender yet heartfelt and the ending was amazing. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, even with a little romance thrown in. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.