It is 1911 at the end of the Edwardian era. At an asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, a new patient sees an opportunity to run and takes it. As Ella runs across a field, she sees men digging a deep hole in the earth. She stumbles and one of the men reaches to help her. This is her first sight of John, and The Ballroom by Anna Hope is their story.
Ella is admitted to the asylum because she broke a window at the mill where she works. It is a mystery why John is there. Their story is told slowly as they get glimpses of each other, rare, as the men and women are kept separate apart from the Friday night dance in the ballroom. The asylum is a magnificent Victorian building and the ballroom is designed to inspire its inhabitants, to improve their spirits, with its stained glass pictures of birds and brambles, painted walls and stage for musicians. Their story is also told by Dr Charles Fuller, his interest in eugenics sets their plight into context with the times. At first he enthusiastically organises a musical programme designed to lift the spirits of the imprisoned men and women – incidentally the men work outdoors, the women shut indoors – until an experimentation with new music changes everything.
The background is a boiling hot summer, spirits and tempers run high. Hope draws such a clear picture of the asylum and the moors – helped, I think, by the fact she used a real building as her inspiration – that I can see it. This is a story of love, rather than a romance; the setting and context sometimes make for a difficult read, but throughout I was willing Ella on. You can’t but help admire the guts and determination described.
This is an excellent novel to follow Anna Hope’s debut novel, Wake, read my review here.
Her name is now on my list of authors to follow.
‘The Ballroom’ by Anna Hope [UK: Doubleday] Buy now
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