Reviews of The Ballroom by Anna Hope

The Ballroom

A Novel

by Anna Hope

The Ballroom by Anna Hope X
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
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  • Published:
    Sep 2016, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Claire McAlpine
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About this Book

Book Summary

A searing novel of forbidden love on the Yorkshire moors from the author of the critically acclaimed debut Wake

England, 1911. At Sharston Asylum, men and women are separated by thick walls and barred windows. But on Friday nights, they are allowed to mingle in the asylum's magnificent ballroom. From its balconies and vaulted ceilings to its stained glass, the ballroom is a sanctuary. Onstage, the orchestra plays Strauss and Debussy while the patients twirl across the gleaming dance floor.

Amid this heady ambience, John Mulligan and Ella Fay first meet. John is a sure-footed dancer with a clouded, secretive face; Ella is as skittish as a colt, with her knobby knees and flushed cheeks. Despite their grim circumstances, the unlikely pair strikes up a tenuous courtship. During the week, he writes letters smuggled to her in secret, unaware that Ella cannot read. She enlists a friend to read them aloud and gains resolve from the force of John's words, each sentence a stirring incantation. And, of course, there's always the promise of the ballroom.
 
Then one of them receives an unexpected opportunity to leave Sharston for good. As Anna Hope's powerful, bittersweet novel unfolds, John and Ella face an agonizing dilemma: whether to cling to familiar comforts or to confront a new world—living apart, yet forever changed

1911



Winter–Spring



Ella

"Are you going to behave?" The man's voice echoed. "Are you going to behave?"

She made a noise. Could have been yes. Could have been no, but the blanket was pulled off her head and she gasped for air.

An arched hall stretched before her, lit with lamps. The thin hiss of gas. Plants everywhere, and the smell of carbolic soap. On the floor were tiles, reaching out in all directions, polished till they shone, some in the shapes of flowers, but the flowers were black. She knew then that this was no police station, and started shouting in fear, until a young woman in uniform appeared from the darkness and slapped her on the cheek. "There'll be none of that in here."

Irish. Ella whipped her head back, tears in her eyes though she wasn't crying. She knew those Irish girls. There were plenty at the mill. They were mean as hell.

Another woman came, and they put their hands beneath her armpits and began pulling her toward two doors. Ella ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A haunting, highly readable novel of extremes, The Ballroom explores love and loss; progress and terror; and nature versus the institution, all of which will appeal to those who enjoy books with a slow tension-fueled build-up and an emotionally satisfying ending...continued

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(Reviewed by Claire McAlpine).

Media Reviews

Booklist
Part historical novel and part romance, The Ballroom paints an incredibly rich portrait of the mentally stable forced to live in an asylum.

Publishers Weekly
A compelling cast of emotionally resonant characters, as well as a bittersweet.

Sunday Express (UK)
A beautifully wrought novel, a tender, heartbreaking and insightful exploration of the longings that survive in the most inhospitable environments.

The Irish Times
A brilliantly moving meditation on what it means to be 'insane' in a cruel world ... All the characters are vividly and sensitively drawn. ... Deeply moving.

The Observer (UK)
As with Hope's highly acclaimed debut novel, Wake, the writing is elegant and insightful; she writes beautifully about human emotion, landscape and weather.

Yorkshire Post (UK)
Compelling and masterful ... Anna Hope has proven once again that she is a luminary in historical fiction. ... She delivers profound, poignant narratives that stir the emotions.

Daily Mail (UK)
The Ballroom has all the intensity and lyricism of [Anna] Hope's debut, Wake. At its heart is a tender and absorbing love story.

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Beyond the Book

Perfecting Humanity - The British Eugenics Movement

Eugenics CartoonAs mentioned in Anna Hope's historical novel The Ballroom, just over 100 years ago in 1912, London hosted the first International Eugenics Conference, an event attended by people who believed in the prevention of those deemed inferior – whom they labeled 'feeble-minded' – from reproducing. It was a categorization that referred more to their social class and wealth than intellectual ability. From The Spectator, 25 May 1912:

The only way of cutting off the constant stream of idiots and imbeciles and feeble-minded persons who help to fill our prisons and workhouses, reformatories, and asylums is to prevent those who are known to be mentally defective from producing offspring. Undoubtedly the best way of doing this...

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