The Ballroom by Anna Hope
Published in 2016 by Black Swan
My version: Library
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 historical love story. It tells a page-turning tale of dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.
I have been completely hopeless at posting book reviews so far this year, but I’m hoping this post is the start of my blogging comeback!
This story is told from three points of view, and the first we hear is that of Ella, who finds herself in the infamous Sharston Asylum (based on a real asylum in Yorkshire where the author’s own great-grandfather was hospitalised). We also have narratives from John – one of the male patients, and Charles, a doctor at the facility who wants to try and use music to heal the patients.
I was sucked into the book from the very opening pages – why had Ella been committed to the asylum? And when you find out why, and the sheer number of men and women that are also living here, you really get a sense of just what an appalling place this is. The scene was set really well at the start, and I was eager to read on.
But despite being sucked into the story early on, about halfway through I did find myself struggling with this book. The pace is very slow and hardly anything actually happens. The build up to the meeting between the two characters takes a long time – but when they do finally fall for each other, as we know they will from the blurb, it didn’t completely convince me.
I think one other issue I had with the novel were Charles’ sections. This perspective was in some ways vital to give the reader an insight into the views towards mental patients at the time, and some of the more medical and scientific thinking – and some of this is eye-opening and disturbing. But these sections tended to slow the plot down for me quite a bit. The way Charles changes throughout the book is also really interesting and cleverly done, but I felt like it could have been a separate novel entirely, and again shifted the focus away from John and Ella.
I was really disappointed when I finished this book to be honest, as I had expected so much more and I felt it had promised so much. And maybe it was just me, as I have read so many glowing reviews of this novel, but it just didn’t quite work for me. I was never completely convinced by the central characters, and there seemed to be too much going on that didn’t add to the storyline. The relationship between Ella and John didn’t feel believable and the pacing was too slow for me.