One of the best books that I read last year was Anna Hope’s début novel ‘Wake’, so when a generous soul offered me the opportunity to read Hope’s new novel prior to publication date, I was more than a little excited. Of course I wanted to like it, I really wanted to like it, so much so that I had to give my head a good shake as I turned into each chapter to rid myself of any subconscious, influencing notions.
I’m delighted to report that ‘The Ballroom’ delivers on every level. Set mainly during the heatwave of 1911, the story is told through the eyes of Ella, John and Charles two inmates at an asylum and their doctor. Three characters caged by their circumstances and the times they live in.
The asylum sits in the beautiful landscape of the Yorkshire moors. Men work the fields under the relentless sun of that infamous summer. An onlooker might feel they’ve stepped into a glorious painting of those golden hay-gathering days towards the end of the Edwardian era. Anna Hope captures the surroundings beautifully, however, appearances can be deceptive, and this theme is prevalent throughout this stunning novel. The men that work the fields are patients, under lock and key, and the taste of freedom will last only as long as the summer.
Male and female patients are segregated. Every Friday the chosen ones are brought together for a dance in the asylum’s incongruously opulent ballroom, overseen by Charles Fuller: doctor, musician and student of eugenics.
Caged, frustrated and dizzy from the heat, unsurprisingly passions are ignited.
Young, melancholic Irishman John, falls for pretty little Ella and they embark on a banned and dangerous love story that changes the course of their lives.
The Ballroom is far more than a love story; it’s a powerful insight into the prejudices and abhorrent views of the time. Hope presents history in the most readable way. She highlights the blurred lines between sanity and insanity and brings to the fore dark and disturbing elements of a time that many see as the golden era of Great Britain.
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
To be published by Doubleday : February 2016