The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
The Ballroom is set at the beginning of the twentieth century in a huge lunatic asylum near Manchester, the centre-piece of which is a ballroom where weekly dances are attended by the normally segregated female and male patients.
At the heart of the story are four strongly-drawn characters: Ella, the factory worker committed for breaking a window, John the Irish labourer recovering from a breakdown after the collapse of his marriage, Clem an educated young woman who refuses to accept her father's choice of husband, and Charles, the second-rate doctor fascinated by the newly-popular ideas of the eugenic movement.
A study of the abuse of power, The Ballroom examines the consequences of poorly understood scientific thinking , in this case the extension of evolutionary theory to ideas about race, class and mental illness, and, in particular, the ideas behind the eugenics movement.
Eugenics ultimately gave birth to the horrors of Nazism, but in its early days it was supported by influential people on the right and left of the political spectrum including, in Britain, the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, whom ambitious Charles hopes to impress with his plans for a programme of compulsory sterilization for the feeble-minded
Lyrical writing, a compelling emotional narrative and a nail-biting plot make for a novel that functions on a number of different levels and afterwards lingers powerfully in the reader's mind like a warning from history.