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September book club - The Ballroom

(76 Posts)
Waveney Thu 01-Sep-16 12:23:46

I was excited to receive a copy of The Ballroom this morning, and I am really looking forward to reading it. I spent August waiting in anticipation for the book of the month, and put off starting a new book in case it arrived so I am delighted to be able to start a new read!😃

Gagagran Thu 08-Sep-16 11:36:57

I absolutely loved this book and could hardly bear to put it down. I come from the West Riding (now West Yorkshire) and know Menston (on which Sharston is based) well. It is a wonderful book.

How cruel and unkind life was for the many locked up in asylums even though they had shelter and a good diet from their own produce. I suppose the slums of nearby Leeds and Bradford were an awful environment but throughout the book there is the echo of the cry for freedom from the strict asylum regime, which at least the slum dwellers had to some extent.

I thought the ending was wonderful and very satisfying and it left us with some hope for a happier future for John.

I think Anna Hope is a gifted writer and would like to ask her if she has more books in the pipeline? (do hope so!)

Jane10 Thu 08-Sep-16 18:42:49

It was a beautiful sad book. As someone who has worked in a (now long closed) mental institution a lot of it rang true even though the book was set in the early 20th century these places set a kind of approach that echoed forward if you know what I mean.

Maggiemaybe Thu 08-Sep-16 22:45:20

I was disappointed to miss out on this book, as DD2 lives in Menston (waves to Gagagransmile) and we are there twice a week looking after DGS2. We often take him walking round the old asylum grounds. This sounds a bit grim grin, but it's all being landscaped and converted into houses and flats now, though there are still some of the old abandoned buildings waiting to be dealt with, adorned with Keep Out and Danger signs.

Seeing as your reviews are all so positive, it looks as though I'll have to invest in a copy! I don't think a Kindle version will do this time.

Jane10 Fri 09-Sep-16 08:40:01

Do it Maggie. There's lots of descriptions of the place and the grounds. Even if you didn't like the story you'll have fun checking out the locations. I don't think I'd want an apartment there though. Such sad lives have gone on there. If anywhere is haunted I suspect that place would be!

Hammycmt Fri 09-Sep-16 11:17:32

What a beautifully written book, I was,engrossed from start to finish. I was pleased to read that John finally found peace in his life. I do hope there are more books in the pipeline. In the meantime I have ordered Wake.thank you for introducing Anna Hope to me.

Maggiemaybe Fri 09-Sep-16 14:18:42

Oh, I agree with you, Jane! There are some lovely homes there, but I always think places like this must carry some sort of sense of what has happened in them. Oddly enough, I was looking up at one of the lodge houses on the entrance to the site last week (it's for sale) when DGS2 piped up "I don't like that house", but couldn't say why. Out of the mouths of babes...!

chloe1984 Sun 11-Sep-16 11:51:25

I enjoyed reading this well written and interesting book I found the ending uplifting . It has prompted an interest in the area and I intend to do some more reading on the 'feeble minded' act so thank you

jammy388 Sun 11-Sep-16 18:21:43

Thank you for the opportunity to discover this excellent book and its talented author. The Ballroom was so beautifully written, with characters and places convincingly drawn, that I felt I was drawn into a different world while reading it. There was plenty to feel sad and angry about in the treatment of women, the poor and the ill, but there was hope too.

hjw2505 Sun 11-Sep-16 19:16:45

I'm just about to start reading 'The ballroom' on my bus commute to work next week. Looking forward to it as all the posts on here so far are really positive

LullyDully Mon 12-Sep-16 16:05:22

I have just finished the book and found the ending bittersweet. It helped to round the story off and made me cry when he held his granddaughter's hand. What awful cruelty and callous attitudes.A good read however. Eugenics was a dreadful movement.

I was confused by the fact that Ella had worked in a mill under early Victorian conditions. I had understood that the 1833 factory act had put an end to that in most cases. Also 1870 education act made it compulsory for children to go to school to learn to read and write. The book was set in1911, so a bit confused there.

Catmanic Wed 14-Sep-16 11:13:30

Enjoying this read especially since I'm recuperating following a major operation. This book couldn't have come at a better time. I may not have chosen this read myself but that's the fun of reading a book very different to my usual genre. Thank you.

Waveney Wed 14-Sep-16 11:22:13

I have just finished reading this book, and found it very moving. I usually read very quickly, but this was a book to be savoured so I read it more slowly and in sections. It really captured the feeling of the age, and would make a superb film ( perhaps with the lovely Aiden Turner in the role of John?). Thank you so much for this book - my favourite of the ones I have been lucky enough to receive so far.

LullyDully Wed 14-Sep-16 12:53:00

It's funny isn't it Waveny that when you read some books you can see them easily in a film? Actors playing Poldark and Demelsa would fit well, but a bit distracting perhaps.

Waveney Wed 14-Sep-16 13:28:36

I think, LullyDully, that both the character descriptions and the settings were described in such a visual way (for me anyway) that I could easily imagine it as a film. Not every author is able to achieve that. Aiden Turner has a soft Irish accent when not being Poldark - though I agree he could distract from the story!

ClaraB Thu 15-Sep-16 10:33:34

I so enjoyed reading The Ballroom and have recommended it to one of our WI Reading Groups. I just couldn't put it down, it was a great insight into how things used to be and probably were never spoken about. Absolutely unreal that this could happen to a young girl just for breaking a window.

Grannyjacq1 Fri 16-Sep-16 12:24:02

This is the best book I have read for ages. Finishing it off on the beach this afternoon, at the end of a September heatwave – just like the one described in the novel in 1911 – I happened to see a teenage girl who clearly had both mental and physical disabilities. She was being looked after by two carers, who were singing and playing with her on the beach. Clearly, the young girl was having a wonderful time. It made me think about how different her life would have been if she had had this disability 100 years ago. Instead of enjoying the freedom of a beach, she would have been locked away from society, as girls like Ella and Clem were – separated from nature and other people by high walls and barred windows. Churchill’s disturbing plans for compulsory sterilisation and the ‘Feeble Minded Bill’ (eventually passed as the Mental Deficiency Act in 1913) form the historical backdrop to this absorbing and beautifully written novel.
I loved everything about this novel and found the three ‘voices’ convincing and engaging – even Charles, who also seemed to be a victim of circumstances with his unsympathetic family and repressed homosexual desires. Each was trapped in their own particular way. The violence which permeates the novel is frightening – especially the forced feeding of patients. Hope writes superbly about emotions as well as the landscape/weather, with the two often reflecting each other in a way which reminded me of some of DH Lawrence’s prose. Although the 3 narratives were written in the third person, Hope captures their individual ‘voices’ very well, with use of dialect words and Polari enhancing this.
I know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or title, and this sounds like a very ‘gendered’ comment – sorry - but I wonder how many male readers would be put off reading this by the title and cover? I know my husband would enjoy reading it, as he used to work as a nursing auxiliary in a mental hospital in Yorkshire during the holidays when he was a student, but a cursory glance at the cover made him think that I was reading another Jane Austen novel. I can see why it was called ‘The Ballroom’ – but I wonder if Anna Hope had considered any other possible titles?
I will certainly go on to read ‘Wake’, and any other novels which Hope is planning to write. Like some of the other bookclub readers, I also think this would make an excellent film.

Persistentdonor Sat 17-Sep-16 09:56:51

I was grateful to receive a paperback copy of "The Ballroom" by Anna Hope and have found the novel entirely absorbing and engrossing.
I worked in several different NHS secure mental health units between 1997 & 2007. The description of the old red brick buildings is so generically accurate, and really forcibly reminded me of the first time I stood in one of those beautiful ballrooms.
The model of a self sufficient hospital, (usually with its own brass band and cricket team,) to look after the mentally ill who were unable to survive in the outside world, does appear to be an excellent idea. However, as Anna Hope expresses, the reality was that any member of the struggling underclass could find themselves incarcerated simply through demonstrating frustration at being financially deprived.
Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, my question to Anna Hope would be: had she mapped the whole novel before she began writing, or did some of the characters evolve during the process...... at what point did she realise that certain staff at Sharston Asylum might be far more certifiably mad than her featured patients?

cazthebookworm Sat 17-Sep-16 10:05:07

I too enjoyed the book very much, not overly descriptive, well drawn characters and an interesting read. Unbelievable that the asylums existed as they did, very harsh and with little medical care, just a prison really. Each character's story was interesting and although there was sadness, the ending was satisfactory. A well written and researched novel .

granh1 Sat 17-Sep-16 19:26:10

There was a time when the poor and ill were cared for by the communities in which they lived – poor laws had been in place since the reign of Elizabeth 1st. An ancestor or mine was a pauper child made an apprentice by the parish in 1786, which enabled him to learn a trade and become self- sufficient. The 19th century saw the rise of institutional care in workhouses, the poor and ill where no longer seen as unfortunate and helped, but responsible for their own demise and punished with harsh treatment.

The mentally ill followed a similar path, from community care to institution. By the beginning of the 20th century the numbers in asylums had drastically multiplied. This was as much to do with the classification of ‘mad’ than an increase in illness. The different classifications can be seen in the book which is set in 1911.

Ella has had a hard life of poverty, neglect, and toil in a mill. One day she cracks and breaks a window to see the light. For this she is labeled unbalanced and sent to the asylum.

John has a breakdown following the death of his wife and child had caused him to be out of work and depressed – a state that is labelled madness.

Clem is befriended by Ella. She has been sent to the asylum by her father and brother because she refuses to marry a man of their choice. This is a way of dealing with women who do not conform to the way men think they should think or live.

Charles is a failed medic with a love of music. He joins the staff of the asylum and starts a positive regime of improvement for the inmates through music and a weekly dance. However it all goes wrong as he is sucked into the eugenics movement, resulting in his rejection of music and the idea that patients can recover.

The book is beautifully written, moving and poignant – the more so as it is based on historical fact.

Sane or mad - but which is which? My question would be - Do we have the same dilemma today? To what extent do social conditions affect mental state?

Greenfinch Sun 18-Sep-16 14:51:37

This is the best book I have read for some time. I enjoyed everything about it including its setting in one of those long hot summers leading up to World War One. I thought the characters were beautifully portrayed and didn't want the book to end .I wanted to know more about them and wondered if Anna Hope intends to write about them again. I would have loved to have known more about Clem and what happened to Ella from the moment she was dropped off on the moors.Her life as a mother would have been fascinating as would have been her relationship with her family and how she coped without John.

gillyknits Sun 18-Sep-16 16:09:07

I loved this book!
It's along time since I've read a book with such descriptive narrative. I was transported to the inside of the asylum, which had been built in such a lavish way, yet was so unfit for purpose. The overcrowding and airless interior which became even more unbearable during the heat wave.The slow indolent days are so well depicted both inside and out in the fields.
The story follows three main characters, but the ancillary ones are just as well drawn. Dan the former sailor with his ripe language and strange opinion of the world and Clem, the rich man's daughter incarcerated because she would not marry the man chosen for her by her father. They both play their part in the development of the main characters.
The reasons for John and Ella's imprisonment seem so flimsy to us today but at the turn of the century anyone could be sent to the asylum just for being different or poor. John had ended up there from the workhouse and Ella had damaged a window in the mill where she worked.
Charles,the doctor, seemed a sympathetic character at first but, as he became more frustrated by his repressed sexuality, he became cruel. (I had never read much about Eugenics and was appalled at the way that this was seen as a solution to poverty.)
I was really gripped by the story and rooting for there to be a happy ending .
This is the type of book that makes a lasting impression on me. I shall certainly now read 'The Wake' and look out for any future books by this author.
Has she got another book on the way?

BlueBelle Sun 18-Sep-16 16:53:25

How do you get theses books ?

Greenfinch Sun 18-Sep-16 17:08:41

Logon to Grans et Home then click Books.You will then see a list of books including the book of the month. It will explain how you can app!y for a free copy. You won't always be lucky but keep trying. A new book usually appears around the middle of the month. October's is there now. Good luck.

rocketstop Tue 20-Sep-16 11:49:02

Hi Anna,
First of all, let me say, I read a lot of books, so I can be over critical of the ones I do read, secondly, I am recovering from a major operation, and wondered if it would be folly to try a new book from an Author I have never read, when my attention span was so low , I was sleepy and obviously in pain.However, what I read in your book will stay with me for a long long time.It was the most affecting story, and your descriptions of the simple things that happen outside:Birds singing, grass growing, skies etc, all painted so beautifully poignantly from the perspective of Ella who could only yearn to be outside. How fantastic, the gifts from John and what they represented, the Feather etc.
It was sad beyond measure, and exquisite and I loved it very much. Thank you for a great read, the only trouble is..How do you top that, and are you going to try ? I hope so.
Thank you Anna for helping me through my own days and nights of confinement.

harrigran Wed 21-Sep-16 12:20:49

The Ballroom was a very well written novel with enough real history to make the book believable. The characters were so well described that I could virtually picture each one. Charles Fuller, in the beginning, I was drawn to him as a rather sad young man with overbearing parents but as the story unfolded it was clear that he had issues of his own.
Ella, obviously, did not belong in an asylum and I was happy when she was released but I would have liked the story to tell us where she did find work and a little about her post release life.
John Mulligan was a good hearted man and spent many years searching for his love, I was so pleased he got to meet his daughter and granddaughter in the end.
GNHQ, this book is what book clubs are about, well done.
I am a prolific reader and I have ditched several GN books before finishing them and given them a poor review. This time you excelled smileflowers