The Ballroom (Anna Hope)

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.

What a poetic book. So glad I requested this! It’s not an easy book to read (because of the topic and because some might find it a bit slow-paced), but I’d say it’s absolutely worth it.

Besides Shutter Island, I hadn’t read a book that took place in an asylum and it’s obvious that these two books couldn’t be more different. The Ballroom is a well-crafted love story (a very special one) about two people who meet in the most unexpected place. And it’s beautiful. And tragic. But the novel is about so much more.

Ella Fay is a young woman who has been brought to the Sharston asylum, in the Yorkshire moors, after breaking a window at the mill where she used to work. There she meets Clem, another young woman who suffers from depression and they soon become “friends”. At the weekly ballroom, Ella meets John Mulligan, an Irish man with a dark past. They begin writing letters. But everything gets complicated when a doctor named Charles Fuller starts investigating about eugenics…

Such a horrific topic, although not my first book about it (check out the wonderful Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain). Surprisingly, Charles was the most intriguing character in this book, one of those you grow to hate but can’t stop reading about. His was certainly an interesting psychological study, sometimes even scary.

John and Ella were interesting characters and I liked them both, but I think we never got to know them well enough. I would’ve enjoyed to see more background. I particularly liked poor Clem and loved how she seemed so eager to help those two find their way. I felt so sorry for her.

It’s disturbing and fascinating how it used to be back then. I read about these things that were considered normal, like committing people to mental hospitals just because they make a mistake or thinking that reading can be wrong for you if you’re a woman and I shudder just thinking about it.

I recommend this book if you don’t mind heavy topics and you enjoy discovering what life was really like a hundread years ago. An emotional novel and deeply unique.

Transworld, 2016

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I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

44 thoughts on “The Ballroom (Anna Hope)

  1. Donna says:

    I had forgotten about this book! I wanted to read it after Claire published her review months ago. Now it’s up on my list again thanks to you 😀
    I’m so curious about asylums and psychology that this book should be for me. Maybe I was in one in another life, haha. That would explain the interest!


  2. Grab the Lapels says:

    I read a nonfiction book called Annie’s Ghost a couple of years ago. It’s written by a journalist who, when he was middle-aged, learned that he had an aunt no one ever told him about. By this time, his parents are dead and everyone who would be their contemporaries are quite a bit older (80s) or also dead. As a result, the stories isn’t really about Annie because he doesn’t discover much about her, but he does provide a lot of information about the time period and being committed to institutions and why people were sent there. We’re talking the heyday of institutions. Now we’re completely closing them, which I don’t think is right, but they were basically housing the homeless at times. They weren’t used properly, from what I gather. Annie’s Ghost might be a book you like.


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