Review: The Ballroom by Anna Hope

I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Publisher: Doubleday

Published: February 2016

Pages: 320


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.

My Thoughts…

When I first read the blurb for this book I thought: “Wow! A book tackling the drama of last century’s mental institutions… I must read it!” Maybe I set my expectations a little too high, maybe I just picked the wrong time to read it… Fact is, I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. But! Let’s start with what I did in fact like about this read…

For starters, I really appreciated having the story told through three separate POVs. I liked getting inside the head of the main characters and trying to figure out why they acted the way they did. The character of the doctor, in particular, was a very complex one, by no means flat in his role, so I particularly enjoyed seeing the asylum from his point of view. Watching the story unfold also from John’s and Ella’s perspective completed this picture perfectly.

I also liked the historical setting. The heatwave of 1911 is not a period I was terribly familiar with, so I quite enjoyed finding out some more bits and pieces of information about it. The author did a magnificent job of recreating life inside an asylum at the beginning of the twentieth century, with all its dark sides and its immense sadness.

However, the story went by just a little too slowly for my taste, and I found several parts to be flat out boring. While I appreciate what the author was trying to do when she put her focus on the Eugenetics Movement (which is really S C A R Y to think about as a part of European history), sometimes the scientific explantations were just too much. If you’re into accurate reconstructions and don’t mind details, you’ll love this, especially as it shows the remarkable research the author carried out to write this book. For me, however, it made the story flow less easily, and I found the level of detail a tad excessive.

As for the characters, I had real problems in getting attached. Despite the story being told through three separate POVs, I didn’t manage to establish a connection with any of the main characters, and wasn’t very concerned about their fate by the end of the book. I wasn’t too keen on the love story either. I felt like the romance just appeared out of nowhere, and faded almost as quickly, with the two main characters loving their own idea of the other much more than the other person. Again, maybe I just picked the wrong moment to read this, but I just couldn’t see a great, tragic love story in these pages…

Overall, this book is definitely impressive for the amount of research the author carried out and the accurate reconstruction of an early twentieth-century asylum that she is capable of creating. It does also raise some interesting questions on mental health, institutions and who should be able to make crucial decisions for vulnerable individuals in society. However, for me, it went by way too slowly. In my opinion, it works well as historical fiction, not so much as a romance. Definitely recommended if you like detailed historical reconstructions of lesser-known periods, supported by a fantastic research job.

Rating: 3.5/5


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