The Ballroom is set in a Yorkshire asylum throughout 1911, and tells the story of two of the patients there: Ella and John. Although men and women are usually separated, once a week, on a Friday, some of the patients are invited to take part in a dance in the asylum's spectacular ballroom. It is here where Ella and John meet and so begins a love story against all the odds.
The Ballroom is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Ella, John and Charles, a doctor working in the asylum. Each chapter is written in third person, so whilst the reader is not given a first hand insight into the character's lives, they do have the opportunity to consider events from their perspective. I did consider whether a first person narrative would have been more effective; however, the third person gives the reader the impression that someone else is speaking for them and reinforces the sense of restriction each character feels in their environment. The insight into the characters helps the reader to relate to them more easily and feel sympathetic to their plight. I also found it very easy to relate to the supporting characters, especially Dan and Clem, and felt emotionally involved in their stories too.
Hope writes in her "Author's Note" which follows the novel that The Ballroom that it is based on her great-grandfather's experiences in Menston Asylum (latterly Highroyds Hospital, which is now closed.) The historical elements of the novel are extremely well researched, and give The Ballroom an atmosphere which draws the reader in and enables them to imagine what life is like in the asylum, despite being set over a hundred years ago in circumstances which are very different to those with which the average reader will be familiar. I think that the setting made imagining the surroundings easier for me as I recognise the areas of Leeds and Bradford about which Hope writes. In fact. my work place is over the road from where Menston Asylum (High Royds) used to be.
There is a sub-plot to The Ballroom, in which it is inferred that Charles may be homosexual. In 1911, homosexuality was illegal, and there was much more discomfort around this issue than there is in the present day. As such, I believe this would have been an interesting theme to explore further, and was slightly disappointed that it was only discussed briefly over two incidents.
Overall, I felt that The Ballroom was a very engaging novel with a very real sense of time and place, and whilst it falls outside of my usual genre, I am very glad to have read it.
The Ballroom is available from Amazon.