I’ve just finished my latest read, Anna Hope’s novel The Ballroom, and I’m not quite sure what to say about it.
I should preface this review by stating that I loved Hope’s first novel, Wake. It touched me profoundly and I became very immersed in it. It was a novel I had been meaning to read for many years (mainly because the cover caught my attention), and I was so glad I finally picked it up after reading it, because I nearly devoured it. It was poetic, extremely well written and touching.
The Ballroom caught my eye both because of its gorgeous cover and the fact that it was written by Hope. When I found that it was a novel about the lives, love and passion of residents of a Yorkshire asylum, I was immediately intrigued and expected that Hope, who wrote so feelingly about mourning in Wake, would deliver a compelling and heart-wrenching story.
The Ballroom wasn’t quite what I expected in that regard. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, finished it pretty quickly and found Hope’s pacing and prose to be rich and lyrical once again, but I found my mind wandering at certain points in the story. The truth is, much of the plot was slow and yet still seemed to lack development. I don’t feel that I ever grew to truly know Ella Fay and John Mulligan (the protagonists), and I never felt very connected to them because I didn’t feel emotional investment in their stories. It was only at the very (heartbreaking) end that I felt any real sadness or apprehension, and I think that is due to the fact that their backstories were not fleshed out enough for me to latch onto and their love story was very brief and described in snippets.
I feel that the reason for my disconnect from the main characters stems from the fact that Hope chose to include a third character’s portion of the story in the mix, that of Charles Fuller, a young doctor at the asylum. Providing Dr. Fuller’s point of view (although narrated in the third person, as were Ella and John’s portions) took me out of the story of the patients of the asylum and almost made me forget the emotions I was feeling with them. Having said that, Dr. Fuller was, for me, the most fascinating character of the novel. He was so twisted, strange and maddening, and I do believe that Hope was right to include his interiority because it gave me a sense of just how disjointed and unhealthy he was. He interested me more than any other character, while simultaneously disgusting me, and I think it is in describing his thoughts and impulses that Hope’s writing was at its most masterful.
Overall, I found this story a bit above average. It didn’t wow me, but there were moments when I found it fascinating and I did feel the urge at times to read faster and delve deeper into the story. I only wish it had been a bit longer to allow me to do so with each of the important characters equally.
❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart