Monday, 28 March 2016

The Ballroom

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 for ever.  Set over the heatwave summer of 1911 at 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.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Ballroom is a beautifully written novel following the lives of a small cast of characters during their days at an asylum on the Yorkshire Moors, where male and female patients are segregated other than once a week, when they are allowed to come together to dance. 

The story is centered around three main characters and is told in turn from their own perspectives: John Mulligan, a long-term patient; Ella Fay, a factory worker who finds herself admitted after a heat-induced outbutst at work; and Dr Fuller, a member of asylum staff.  All the characters are very compelling and have great depth to them.  John and Ella's love story was one of the most touching I have ever read and completely absorbing.  Anna Hope beautifully captured the desperation of their situation and their longing to be together.  Through their respective chapters we also learn a lot about asylum life, the tasks patients would be expected to do, their treatments, and other experiences they might have whilst living there.  Dr Fuller's chapters provide the historical backdrop as we are given an insight into attitudes towards mental health in the Edwardian era, and the eugenics movement.  As the novel progresses, Dr Fuller becomes a very different character to the one we are introduced to at the start, as we witness a change in his attitudes towards the feeble minded and what he believes is the best course of action.  The historical elements of the novel were really interesting and very well detailed.

Anna Hope's writing flows beautifully, and The Ballroom is a haunting, atmospheric book.  Both the asylum and the weather - as the novel is set during a heatwave summer - are so vividly described that they are almost like characters in themselves and the whole time I was reading I was easily able to imagine being there, experiencing asylum life along with the characters.

I was fascinated to learn that the novel was based on the true story of the author's grandfather and his time at the very real High Royd's Hospital in Yorkshire.  This was particularly interesting to me as the asylum is not very far from where I live, and I've often heard people mention it!  The first time in a long time that I've felt compelled to read even more about the subject of a novel, I was really interested to learn that the hospital, formerly West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, really did have a ballroom and dances really were held for the patients as described.  Anna Hope has taken this reality and expanded on it to create an unforgettable story.

Too long, didn't read?  Here's my Goodreads review:

The BallroomThe Ballroom by Anna Hope
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful love story set against a fascinating historical backdrop, in a very vivid and atmospheric setting. Completely absorbing.

View all my reviews

Friday, 11 March 2016

Let me photograph you in this light

... in case this is the last time that we might be exactly like we were.

On Tuesday night this week we got the train to Manchester to see Adele in concert.  There she is, look, above.  We had a pretty good view, albeit very high up so she looked very tiny to us!  But in all honesty, the fact that we couldn't see her very well didn't matter at all once she started singing.  That voice!  It goes without saying that she can sing but she sounds even more amazing live.  She's well known for her personality too and this shone through - even though we were in a sold out arena she made it feel a lot more intimate, like she was just having a chat with us all and very down to earth, and was so great with the audience - stopping for selfies on her way between stages (she had a smaller stage set up near the back of the arena) and even letting a couple of people up on stage with her for photos and inviting a 12 year old girl on stage to duet Someone Like You with her - that was really special.

Her setlist was really good, she did all the big popular ones along with some other favourites of mine and yes, I did have a little cry.  I always say that I feel the same about Adele as Emma Thompson's character in Love Actually feels about Joni Mitchell - she taught me how to feel.  Quite a few of her songs really get me but actually the one that makes me cry the most is Million Years Ago.  It's kind of a strange feeling to hear your own thoughts summarised so well by another person and the first time I listened to that song, I was sobbing by the end of the first chorus.  It was like she'd scooped thoughts right out of my mind and turned them into lyrics.  So I was really glad she played that one.

The highlight of my year so far!