The setting: Sharston Asylum, England, 1911
The main characters:
1. Ella Fay, a mill girl, newly arrived
"Was she mad, then, for breaking a window? Mad for kicking and biting those men? Was that all it took? ... She felt a power in her then. The same feeling she'd had in the mill, but now it took root, lifting her spine. It was dark, she was alone, but her blood was beating; she was alive. She would study it, this place, this asylum. Hide inside herself. She would seem to be good. And then she would escape. Properly, this time. A way they wouldn't expect. And she would never go back."2. John Mulligan, Irish, one of Sharston's "chronic" patients
"(John) did not want to sleep. Knew what was waiting for him there: a woman and a child. Dan's stories did not frighten him; neither did Brandt and his threats. It was what was inside him that did .... he thought of where he was. And how long he had been there. And what was simple broke apart and became a shattered, sharded thing."3. Dr. Charles Fuller, a young doctor and musician
"Charles was content. He had escaped his family. Wrested the rudder of his life from his father's hands. And now here he was, five years later, first assistant medical officer, with a salary of five pounds a week, and a newly appointed bandmaster and head of music. It had been his first action in his new post to institute a program of pianism in the day rooms: an hour a week in each, carried out by himself. He believed he was already seeing a positive effect among the patients. He had great plans for the orchestra, too; under his care he was determined to see the ballroom thrill and live as never before."The verdict: This is a book that should be savored, not merely read. Anna Hope's writing is magical, and I love the way she lets Ella's and John's story slowly unfold over the course of this novel. Their relationship is sweet and poignant, especially considering they're locked up in an asylum for lunatics, (although they both seemed sane to me). Besides examining human nature at close range, this book also delves into the disturbing idea of eugenics which seemed to be a popular scientific theory in 1911. The Ballroom also chronicles how those deemed mad were treated a hundred years ago. I found all the various aspects of this well-written novel entirely absorbing: I rooted for the characters, took umbrage at their treatment, and hoped for a happy ending for all. If I were rating this book on Goodreads, I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars. It's not exactly a light-hearted happy-go-lucky novel, but it is a compelling and moving one. And I'm very glad that I read it...and that I got to read it with Bettina.. Be sure to visit her blog and check out her awesome review. Then go check out this book.