by high walls and barred windows,
there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week
they come together
When John and Ella meet
It is a dance that will change
two lives forever.
After recently writing about how I don’t read either historical fiction or romance novels and asking for suggestions, The Ballroom turned up in my mailbox as part of a reading round robin I am taking part in (organised by Sarah at Sarah Withers Blog).
Set in 1911 and focusing on the relationship between John and Ella, two residents of an asylum who only meet on scheduled Friday dances, this book couldn’t have been further from my regular reads. Yet, I really enjoyed it, showing me just how important it is I step outside my comfort zone once in a while.
That said, I am not sure I could read this style of book all the time. There is a lot of emotion between the pages here. And, while it isn’t schmaltzy or overly sentimental, it does take it out of you. I am much more at home with the twists and turns of a murder investigation than of the human heart.
Here I felt the way I would if a family member or friend were sharing the story – shocked that it could have happened (the author got the idea from her grandfather, who had been put in an asylum for being poor, just like John) and also a little depressed. This may all have happened a long time ago, but that we could ever consider treating other human beings the way John and Ella were treated is something I can’t get my head around.
By the end of The Ballroom I felt emotionally drained. I also felt like I had learned something. The Ballroom felt well researched and I have done a bit of googling since which backs up my feelings when reading it. It was also well written, with passages which brought life in the asylum to life and gave an insight into what it must has felt like for the residents and how they might have felt.
Bizarrely, as horrid as the experience must have been, Hope managed to find positives as well, including the setting for the asylum with it’s Victorian building and Yorkshire landscape. And the ending, when it came, felt true to the story and I liked that. I think I was expecting everything to be nicely wrapped up given the romance tag but it wasn’t and that often sits better with me because life never ends quite as we expect it to.
So, like I said at the beginning, it has all meant that I will look on this style of novel with a much more open set of eyes next time and definitely give books I might not have otherwise read a go. I liked this one a lot.