What’s it all about?:
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
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.
What did I think?:
The Ballroom is the last book in the Richard and Judy Winter Book Club 2016 here in the UK and what a blinder they’ve ended with! This is the author’s second novel after her debut and critically acclaimed novel The Wake (which I still have on my shelves to read and I shall certainly be “bumping,” it on the strength of her second book). Set in the early twentieth century this book is a captivating tale of love and madness that kept me gripped until the very end.
It is the tale primarily of Ella, a young woman who finds herself admitted to an asylum in Yorkshire for (according to her) a slight misdemeanour at work that has led to her being pronounced mad and committed to the asylum for an indefinite period of time or until she appears to recover her senses. John is also in the asylum on the men’s side after having being driven mad with grief after a terrible event in his past. The two first meet properly when the men and women are brought together for a weekly dance, led by one of the medical professionals who insists that the music will have beneficial effects for the poor people that seem to have lost their minds.
Slowly but surely, love develops between Ella and John, a love that seems quite pointless and doomed if they are never to be released from the asylum and never allowed to be together. This is the story of how they cope in the asylum, what day to day life is like for them and also focuses on the other characters in the institution – friends of both Ella and John and on the medical professional and music master, Dr Charles Fuller. He is preparing a paper for the Eugenics Society on the benefits of music for the asylum inhabitants and has a rather sad past/present situation of his own.
The lines between madness and sanity are blurred extraordinarily in this fantastic novel and it makes us question the fragility or strength of our own mind if we were placed in certain situations. I loved Ella and John as characters, both were strong yet somehow very vulnerable and their love story made for delicious reading. I was also deeply intrigued by the character of Charles Fuller, for reasons I dare not disclose for fear of spoilers. At points, it was his story, attitude and actions that made me keep turning the pages, especially at a particularly tense scene involving John near the end…. This is a beautiful piece of writing from a very talented author and I cannot wait to now read her debut, if the brilliance of The Ballroom is anything to go by.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):