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 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 tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.
Way back in October 2013, I was immensely privileged to be an early reviewer of Wake by Anna Hope – you can read my thoughts here. It’s a book that remains vivid in my memory – one of those special books that you find yourself mentioning when people ask about favourite books, books that made an unforgettable impression. I wouldn’t have believed Anna Hope could produce anything better – but with The Ballroom, I really think she has. Published by Doubleday on 11th February in hardback and for kindle, this time I’m privileged to be the final stop on the blog tour for this quite wonderful book. Do check out some of the other excellent reviews…
I can outline the story. There are three main characters. Anna is at Sharston after breaking a mill window when desperate for a view of the sky: for a while, she believes that a mistake has been made and that her release is imminent. John is at Sharston after a life of sadness, finding some relief in the physical work he’s required to do. And then there’s Dr Charles Fuller, introducing music to the asylum inmates, planning his paper on eugenics, while struggling with complex issues of his own. The Friday night dance, accompanied by Dr Fuller’s staff orchestra, takes place in the incongruously beautiful ballroom – an opportunity for inmates of both sexes to mingle, an opportunity allowed and withdrawn on a whim.
Beautifully written, meticulously researched – inspired by the experience of the author’s great grandfather – this book was absolutely mesmerising. It deals with the horrifying reality of daily life in the asylum, but is also infused with an enchanting beauty in the love story it tells. The emotional impact of the book is immense – it’s not often that I close a book and cry my eyes out, in real anger at the injustice of it all, but because of the real beauty and power of the writing. There are images in this book that will stay with me for ever, but the one thing that left the greatest impression was how it made me feel. And that’s the mark of a very gifted writer – this is a book that no-one should miss.
My thanks to Alison Barrow at Transworld for my advance reading copy, and to Becky Hunter for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.
ANNA HOPE was born in Manchester and educated at Oxford University and RADA. She is the author of the acclaimed debut Wake. The Ballroom is her second novel, and is inspired by the true story of her great grand-father. Follow her on Twitter.
(Anna’s first novel, Wake, is available on kindle for £1.99 at the time of writing.)