The Ballroom is Anna Hope’s second novel and one inspired in part by a family connection. I review it in full at Bookbrowse.
A woman who works in a dark, stuffy, factory, one who has been working in hard labour since she a child, is seized by a desperate need to see the sky and smashes a blackened window one day on impulse.
This is how we meet Ella Fay, just before she is committed to an asylum, a place where not only those who genuinely require care, but those who are at the mercy of the powerful (men, husbands, employers), often find themselves.
It is here Ella meets John, a more fortunate patient who works outdoors, he and Ella meet briefly when she tries to escape being held and subsequently on Fridays in the ballroom, the only time selected men and women are allowed to meet.
John is being observed by Dr Charles Fuller, who desires to make a contribution to his field, he closely follows the developments of the Eugenics movement, a group who support improvement of the human race through the prevention of the feeble-minded from reproducing. Uncertain which side of the debate he is on, he tests his theories through observations of the patients, until an unfortunate incident swings his position wildly towards one extreme.
Tension mounts as Ella and John begin to correspond and grow closer to each other and as Dr Fuller’s plans grow closer to fruition, endangering all that might be.
It is an interesting and gripping novel of the experience of two patients who feel more normal to the reader than the man in charge of them, creating a certain tension as we wonder what will happen to them, as they grow to need each other.
The novel is based in part or at least inspired by the authors own great-great grandfather, also an Irishman, who she discovered was committed to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic asylum in the same era on account of his melancholia, caused by the constant threat of poverty; sadly he passed away there.
It provides a disturbing highlight on the British eugenics movement, at its height at the time, supported by a number of high-profile intellectuals and politicians including Winston Churchill.
Note: This book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.