I actually finished reading my advance copy just before Christmas but decided to wait until a little nearer publication before writing my review. Now, this can be a mistake with some books, my memory’s pretty poor – so, leave a couple of weeks between finishing a book and writing about it and frequently I’ll have completely forgotten the storyline let alone my thoughts about it. Not this little beauty though – despite a hectic Christmas and New Year and a two week trip abroad, this book remains on the periphery of my memory haunting me like a beautiful but melancholic apparition. It gripped me like Velcro as soon as I started it and I was soon so deeply immersed in the storyline I couldn’t hear or see anyone around me for days!
It has everything I love about a book, a strong historical setting - An asylum in Yorkshire in the early 1900s. A wistful nostalgic feel and a shadowy sense of unease, plus a doomed love story at the heart. In 1911 when men and women could end up incarcerated in an asylum for little more than making their feelings known, an outburst which would seem quite commonplace and reasonable could very easily be seen as signs of insanity …. Object to your working conditions girls and woe betide you, read too many books and everyone knows it will turn your brain to mush!!
Yet as asylums go, Sharston is perhaps less cruel than many of the era, at least on the surface. Men and women are kept separately, though men are allowed to work outside enjoying the fresh air and women may form friendships amongst themselves. Add to this a young doctor whose love of music leads him to experiment with helping the patients by holding a weekly dance in the ballroom where men and women may dance together and it seems it may be a not too unpleasant place to spend your days.
Ella who broke a window in a moment of hysteria, in the factory where she worked long hours under appalling conditions meets John, depressed following a bereavement and both begin to look forward to their weekly dance sessions. Outside, an unprecedented heatwave rages helping emotions simmer unguarded.
Doctor Charles Fuller, about whom my feelings completely did an about turn part way through the book, battles his own demons and struggles to maintain a grip on his sanity and as the heat builds and passions left buried threaten to rise to the surface, events are about to take a life changing turn.
I became instantly and deeply involved with the superb characters and the storyline is emotional and poignant. I raged and gasped and squirmed in turn as the lives of these characters played out with me as an observer and above all I FELT every emotion with them and was completely wrung out by the end.
Although the scope is perhaps not quite as epic as “A Place called Winter” by Patrick Gale which was one of my favourite reads of last year, the style of storytelling and the feel of the book remind me very much of this superb and very classy historical novel and I loved reading this equally.
My thanks go to Netgalley and the publisher Random House uk for my advance copy to review.
The Blurb (taken from Netgalley)
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.