My most recent read was one of those where the cover struck me and I just had to pick it up. I read the synopsis and poof this one went to the top of my to read pile and boy was I glad it did.
The Ballroom by Anna Hope begins in 1911 on the Yorkshire moors and largely takes place on a huge estate, used as an asylum. In this asylum men and women are segregated, only coming in contact once a week in the ballroom. Every Friday, the asylum has a dance. The patients who have been good all week are allowed to attend.
The story follows three perspectives: Ella, a new member of the women’s ward, John, a member of the men’s ward, and Charles, one of the head doctors of the estate. Ella and John have this intense connection and they kindle it through their dancing and via letters they exchange in secret. Charles, on the other hand is obsessed with John and his obsession turns dark quickly.
This is a story about what it means to be in an asylum during the Edwardian era. Love, obsession, madness and the politics of the time propel this novel forward. Will Ella and John ever be free of the asylum and will their connection survive it’s trials? Will Charles embrace eugenics and will his infatuations break him entirely?
This book was just fascinating. Getting an inside view of what was and wasn’t considered “crazy” at a time where discussions of sterilization of the poor were seriously considered, made for a dark intricate telling. This was a book that I thought about for days after.
I loved that even though there was this romance that spurred two sides of the story, the book wasn’t really about the romance, it was instead a vessel for freedom and a push-back against the societal norms of the time. Ella and John have this bond but equally important to them both is freedom and second chances.
The men of this story where so layered and there was this desperation to their narration that kept you on edge. Charles seemed like he’d be this fluff of a side character but instead his is probably the most intricate of all. And John’s outward appearance vs. his inner voice, shows how he has pushed through depression and finally come “alive.”
This book just talks to so much of what that time period was like… segregation and the difference in being a man or a woman in the asylum, homophobia, depression, eugenics, poor vs. rich, and so much more.
The Ballroom was dark and yet there was this light pushing through that kept you grounded. This is an adult book and I think it could reach a wide range of readers. 4.5 stars from me.
That’s all for now!