Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Anna Hope's "The Ballroom"



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. ~taken from Amazon

I was very excited when I received the email from Netgalley that I was approved by Random House Publishing Group to read and review the U.S. ARC of Anna Hope's The Ballroom: A Novel which is set to be released in the United States on September 6, 2016. 

 The story is told in 3 alternating third-person perspectives about main characters Ella, a female patient, John, a male patient, and Dr. Charles Fuller who works at the asylum.   

In the beginning I really liked this book. The author did great describing the setting- a 1920s asylum. I had the disheartening, sad, and eerie feeling normally associated with asylums. I looked forward to the romantic, mysterious, and historical elements set forth by the premise I read. I was drawn to the fact it took place in an asylum, an out-of-the-norm setting. 

The problem was getting attached to the characters. At first, I liked John and Ella, but daily life and interactions between the two seemed repetitive, which made the first half really boring. Ultimately I felt as if I was being told about their relationship instead of being guided through their actual feelings and emotions. It felt cold and distant and I just couldn't connect with the two characters any longer. 

Of the three perspectives, Dr. Charles Fuller was the most interesting to me. I could feel the compassion and love for his job in the beginning of the story. As the novel progressed he got lost in his work and studies and I found it intriguing to see him going almost as mad as the patients in his care. His character had the greatest character development of them all.

Overall, the story as a whole was a bit mismatched as far as quality of writing and character progression. Perhaps if all characters were told with first person perspective instead of third person I would have had a deeper understanding of all the characters better.

I do commend author Anna Hope for being historically accurate with how mental healthcare worked in those days. It was interesting to read the medical procedures and about how patients were treated. Though no surprise to me, it was so disheartening to see that being poor, grieving the loss of a loved one, or simply having a normal outburst of emotion could label you as "crazy". 

I give this book 3.5 stars. Mainly because the ending was amazing. I am glad Hope included an epilogue because I truly would have felt the story was unfinished and that I needed to know more had it not been included.  The writing about the doctor and the asylum itself was brilliant. The other two main characters simply fell flat and made the majority of the novel boring.

Once again, thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for allowing me to read and review this eARC.

Happy Reading!

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