I often read book reviews on blogs and many of the books I read about end up on my list of books I'd like to read. I'd never have enough time to read everything that makes it on to the list, however, sometimes I do get round to reading a book I've read a review of. The Ballroom by Anna Hope is one of these books.
'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
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 historical love story. It tells a page-turning tale of dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.'
I've read such great reviews of this book and though I did enjoy it overall, I found it quite slow in places, especially in the first half of the book. The story is told from three people's perspectives, Ella, a mill worker who is sent to the asylum for breaking a window, John, an Irish man who was admitted to the asylum from the workhouse, and Charles, a doctor who worked at the asylum.
The character I enjoyed reading about most was Charles, the doctor. He brought music to the wards of the asylum whilst he worked on a paper to present to the first International Eugenics conference. A complex character who's desperation to prove himself shapes Ella and John's future.
I would recommend this book, however, be prepared for the story to build gradually.
The setting of the story is Sharston Asylum but it was clear to me as the story progressed that this was based on the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum which was opened in 1888 and later renamed Menston Mental Hospital. In 1963 its name was changed once more to High Royds Hospital and this is where, in 1985, my grandpa died after being transferred there as he was suffering from dementia. The hospital closed in 2003 after it was declared to be outdated and unsuitable to modern psychiatric practice.
Anna Hope's great-great-grandfather died in the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1918 and whilst looking for more information about the place online, she came across photos of the beautiful ballroom and knew she had to write about it.
It's sad to think that people ended up in asylums through poverty or petty crime as well as mental health problems, and of their treatment in places such as this.
More information about High Royds Hospital can be found at www.highroydshospital.com and photos of the magnificent ballroom can be found here.