The Ballroom, a story of forbidden love set inside the confines of an early 20th century asylum, is a story told in third-person through three character perspectives that pleasingly rotate. The opening perspective is that of Ella, a young woman from a deprived background. After a moment of weakness that has written her off as crazy, she’s been taken to the asylum and is making a spontaneous escape attempt on her first day, running across the surrounding countryside. This is when she and John, the second protagonist of the story, first lay eyes upon each other. She spits at him when he offers to help her to her feet after she has fallen, leaving a long-lasting impression.
The third main character, a doctor called Charles, is a great addition to the story, with his closely written third-person perspective adding depth to the reader’s viewpoint. Every story needs an antagonist, and not only does Charles’ sterile narrative and methodical manner juxtapose perfectly against the organically humble, simplistic lives of John and Ella, but his character is almost likable at times, and certainly understandable. Charles, on his quest for purity and to make a name for himself in the scientific and political worlds, has many inner battles to contend with throughout this story.
Their bodies were slightly hunched, their movements jerky and uncertain, as though unused to such things as space and sky.
I do admit, although Charles’ sections are very much integral to the plot and his story arc does becomes more interesting, it was a teasing break from the perspectives of Ella and John, which I preferred to read. Each of the three character’s differences are felt in their separate perspectives, but the change is smooth and subtle, allowing for a true feeling of the substance of each character to shine through.
Every character has suffered hardships and difficulties in their earlier years that have greatly shaped their adult selves. But these hardships are not dwelt upon in the writing of this book, but merely dropped in with other thoughts, because hardships were so mainstream. John, for instance, in a fleeting daydream back to his teenage years, thinks of a time when he and his friends would walk barefoot to “save their boots.” It’s just so sad, and is made all the more sadder by it not even being a big thing; just one of many hardships he endured time and time again.
Ella and John’s love story is a reluctant one, so please don’t write this off as a fluffy romance. They have so many other things going on in their lives, with trying to escape the asylum being priority number one. Once they do finally give in to the idea of being with each other, it is certainly worth the wait.
He did not need a war to come and remake the world; in her he could be made new.
There is an underlining abuse of power at the asylum, as there is the potential for in any situation where people are put in charge of the lives of others. Divisions are rife within the asylum walls, divisions of power, of hierarchy, of degree of sanity, of intelligence, of status, of occupation, of gender. What really struck me is that, although there are plenty of background characters who clearly do belong in the asylum, there really are quite a few who are questionably sane, and who let a moment or two of weakness, frustration, or anger overpower them enough to be committed.
This story was powerful and addictive the whole way through, keeping a tight grasp on my emotions until the very last page. I really would recommend this to everyone, regardless of your usual favoured genre.
© 2020 Rebecca Delphine
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.