Friday, 14 July 2017

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

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.

How do you stand it?" she said.

"Stand what?"

"All... this." Ella threw out her arm. "Does it not make you mad?"

Clem glanced up. 'Much madness is divinest sense,' She said, and gave a small laugh. "There are plenty of mad women in here. I'm not sure I'm one of them though." She shrugged. "You'll get used to it.”

Sometimes you come across a book that is just…special. A book that makes reading anything else in the days after you finish almost impossible. A book that stays with you days, weeks even months after you finish. The Ballroom is one of those books. This review will not be able to put into words how beautiful, moving and genuinely brilliant I thought this book was but I shall try.

The Ballroom tells a beautiful story of romance, friendship and history. It deals with issues such as mental health, social oppression, homosexuality and gender without being preaching or treating the subjects like something less than they are. Anna Hope has written a story of depth whilst also making it relatable and interesting.

The story moves along at a good pace, and from page one to the end I was never bored. Every page, character, location and plot turn is interesting. I found The Ballroom so engaging that I struggled to put it down and when I had too I could not stop thinking about it. Anna Hope does a great job of at weaving together a romance, the historical significance of the book, the social ramification and well-rounded characterisation. One does not over shadow the other and the result is a well-balanced book and story. There is a lot going on here but it is never confused or overdone.

Anna Hope’s writing is simply beautiful. Her prose is effortlessly powerful and meaningful. She shows and doesn’t tell the reader and every emotion, moment and intention feels real and powerful. She treats the emotional and significant themes that run through The Ballroom with the upmost respect without censoring it. The historical period felt authentic as did the social and cultural issues that were prevalent in the period.

The storyline and writing are fantastic but it is the characters that really make this book what it is. Ella, John, Clem and Charles are all well rounded and well built. They each bring something to this novel and each drive the story. Ella is the character I related to the most. She is an ordinary working girl who finds herself in an awful situation. She is not ‘mad’ just fed up with the cards she has been dealt. There is a hope in her that really drives the book and which is the life force of her romance with John.

Clem and Charles are more secondary characters but in some ways, they are the most important characters in the book. Clem represents a lot of the heart and heartbreak in the book. She is a much-needed friend to Ella but also carries a lot of the emotion depth. Charles represents the conflict. Yet there is more to him than just menace. He starts as a good man, a man who wants to do the best for the people in the asylum but his demons are hard to fight and the more he denies who he is the colder and more horrifying he becomes.

I did want to talk about the romance even though it is not all this novel is about. I am a romantic at heart and this romances really invested me. It was glorious and beautiful and made my stomach churn with nerves. Ella and John find in each other escape, hope and true love. The use of The Ballroom, the only place where they get to see each other was inspired and added so much to the genuine emotion of their romance.

Anna Hope has really created something special here. If you are a fan of history, romance and real, raw characters then read this book. If you love the Bronte’s and Atonement and other books that are ‘more than just a romance’ then read this book. If you just love books then find yourself a copy of this. I read a lot and I enjoy a lot of books so when I say this was the best book not only of 2016 but that I’ve read in a long while I don’t say it lightly. The Ballroom is the type of book that comes along rarely and it has easily found its way into my favourite list.

5 stars

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A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.  Image courtesy of Goodreads.

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