In a mental asylum young attendant Charles Fuller dreams of helping people get better by the power of music, and puts on a ball each Friday. And in the Ballroom, John and Ella, usually kept apart in the strict gender separation of the oppressive asylum, meet. And gradually, despite the other residents, the circumstances, their own difficult pasts, they fall in love. But meanwhile, Charles is becoming disillusioned, angry and bitter; to ends that will threaten all of the characters.
I was very pleased to win this book in a twitter contest. From the title I was expecting something a little more frivolous, and at first was disappointed to find myself reading about a mental hospital. This soon changed as I was drawn into the plot and came to care about the characters and find the setting more and more interesting.
The point of view switches between the three characters; John, Ella and Charles, and their various schemes and emotions drive the plot. I enjoyed the interplay as a way to challenge perceptions of insanity; as fairly clearly throughout we come to question John and Ella’s incarceration, and Charles’ sanity. Each of their character arcs move cleverly and interestingly, intersecting in unexpected ways.
And the story panned out well. We were always presented with real humans, real reactions, weaknesses, ideas and actions.
It was also an insight into the way that mental conditions were treated then. Particularly it was clear that a diagnosis for insanity was issued very easily, and people were locked up who definitely shouldn’t have been. The ideas of eugenics were also explored; a fairly horrific scientific ideal of perfecting the human body.
It was also interesting in Charles’ story to view the affects of that sort of work on a human. Charles at the beginning of the book is relatively idealistic in the affect he’s hoping to have at the institution, but gets worn down very quickly in his real human jealousy and frustration with the people he wants to look down on, but comes to envy.
I really enjoyed this book, and enjoyed thinking about it again to review it which is always a good sign! I’m going to pass it on to a friend, and suggest that you read it. Go on, you!