The Ballroom was such a wonderful surprise to me! A love story set in an early 1900s insane asylum? Whaaaaaaat? Bring some of that noise over here, baby!
I had never heard of British author Anna Hope, but that was to my detriment because she clearly knows what she's about. Her novel follows three main characters within the Yorkshire asylum: Ella and John, who are patients (or would “inmates” be a more apt term?), and Charles, a doctor with a burgeoning interest in eugenics.
(Can I take a minute here to admit that I know literally nothing about geography outside the US? I just had to Google “where is yorkshire” to make sure it wasn't in Ireland. Sometimes I worry I'm part of the problem.)
Ella and John are decidedly less than crazy, as so many people relegated to institutions were in the not-too-distant past. Refusing to comply with social norms could be enough to label a person mentally unfit, and asylums like the one Hope imagines weren't concerned with rehabilitation so much as punishment, coercion, and containment. Despite their confinement and dreary surroundings, from the time they first meet Ella and John are drawn to each other. But escape seems all but impossible, especially with the doctor-with-major-emotional-baggage throwing up roadblocks in increasingly devious ways.
The Ballroom is one of those books that gets better with each passing page. As I was reading, I kept thinking, Wow, this is really good. Then I got to the final chapter and started blinking really fast (there was something in my eye, I swear!) and thought, No, this is better than good. Highly recommended.
*Full disclosure, if you're a reader in the US and you go to buy this book, you won't find the cover pictured here. I used what I think is the UK cover in the link because, frankly, the US cover is so tragically butt-ugly I didn't think anyone would believe my glowing review were they to appear together. If you don't believe me, here. Told you.
With regards to Random House and NetGalley for the review copy. On sale now!