Monday, 26 June 2017

The ballroom, Anne Hope

An asylum on the Yorkshire moors. There are over 1000 male patients and about the same amount of female patients. In those days, it is 1911, there were no drugs or therapies or counselling to help you if you had psychiatric problems.

The only treatment was rewards when you behaved well and punishment if you behaved badly.
The staff and the doctors did try their best in their limited ways to look after the patients. There was good food and for the male patients who worked outdoors there was also plenty of fresh air.

And of course there was the music. Hippocrates already thought that music could be beneficial to patients and in this asylum the music was taken seriously. A doctor played music for the patients in the wards and each week on Friday there was a dance in the ballroom. Only the patients who deserved it were admitted here and the patients were eager to go, since it was a welcome break in the boring and monotonous week.

Ella worked in a textile mill. Every day she worked for more than 14 hours, cooped up in a factory. At home there was no kindness since her mother died and Ella is very unhappy with her life. She wants to break free, but if she breaks a window in the factory, she is diagnosed a being mad and ends up in the asylum.

John lost his wife and his child and that made him loose himself. So much that he was seen as unfit to live in the outside world and he was also admitted to the asylum.

Clemency has been a patient at the asylum for a long time, but she is there because being there gives her more freedom than a marriage would. Clemency longs to read and wants to go to university instead of being a wife and mother, but the doctors feel it is this unfeminine obsession with reading that led to these unnatural desires.

Charles Fuller is a mediocre man. He only just passed his medical exams and wishes he had enough talent to be a concert player. Unfortunately, he is now only the bandmaster of the asylum and not even the first medical assistant in the asylum.

Dr. Fuller is very interested in the new ideas of eugenics. This was a wide spread movement in the US and in Europe that if you try to be careful about breeding animals, society should also be careful about breeding people. Many of the scientists, doctors and biologists who were involved in the eugenics movement, thought that it would be best to sterilize unfit people, to make sure they would not spread their unhealthy and unfit heritage. 

Dr. Fuller hopes to find a case in the asylum he can write a paper about for the Eugenics conference in London, to impress people like Winston Churchill.

These four people meet in that gloomy asylum in Yorkshire. And while Ella and John dream of being free and John writes letters describing the outside world to Ella, it is doctor Fuller who proves to be the real danger. His own feelings of insecurity and admiration for John (or even more), mix with anger and bitterness and he becomes somebody they should fear.

Anna Hope first wrote Wake, which I really loved, so I was very excited to read this second novel by her.

The ballroom is the story of love in difficult circumstances, of freedom and control, of madness and sanity, of forbidden desires and feelings you are ashamed about. I really liked how we met different people and through their stories we learned more about the workings of an asylum in those days and the society in the beginning of the 20th century.

The psychology of the four different characters was well written and I loved how the story alternates between them.

I also liked how your sympathy shifts, for example, I felt sorry for Dr. Fuller at first, but at the end of the book I wished him a horrible death.

John is a man who I began to love, and I wish the ending could have been a little happier, although it is not exactly an unhappy ending. I also felt very sad for Clemency, although I admired her single-mindedness and how she refused to bend. Dan brought the comic relief, that was sometimes very much needed!

The only thing that bothered me is the fate of Ella, since it was never explained how a simple illiterate girl managed to survive after the asylum and do what she did. I would have loved to read more about that and have it worked out more, since now it was a little unrealistic. But that was the only thing I was not happy about in this very well written and engaging novel.

I read The ballroom with Lark, who also published a review (HERE). Again it was a lot of  fun to discuss the book and the characters while we were reading. A lovely reading project, so thank you Lark, for doing this with me. I hope we will do another one in the future!

Published in 2016
Pages: 345

Friday, 23 June 2017

Flowers on the Forum Romanum

The Forum Romanum in Rome is nog just a place where you can see a lot of stones lying around. Amongst the ruins there is also plenty of room for flowers to bloom. So here are a few floral greetings from Rome.
And oh boy, do I want to go back there right now.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Happy Birthday, Nicole Kidman

The amazing and beautiful actress Nicole Kidman is celebrating her 50th birthday today.
Yes, I know, Fifty. Can you imagine?

Friday, 16 June 2017

Anne Boleyn. Alison Weir

Ever since I was about 12 years old, I have been fascinated by the story of Henry VIII and his wifes. The historian Alison Weir is working on six historical novels, one for each of the wives. Last year Katherine of Aragon was published and now Anne Boleyn.

Anne Boleyn has been many things to many people. For some she was a feminist, for other a protestant saint, for other the whore of Babylon. The truth, as always, must be somewhere in the middle.

There are many things we do not know, but in a novel a writer can do things she cannot do in a biography. Blanks can be filled in and guessing is allowed.
Alison Weir knows her subject very well and this shows.

Anne Boleyn was a girl whose ambition was woken when she spend time at the courts of two formidable women, the educated Renaissance court of Margaret of Austria, who was regent of The Netherlands and the elegant court of the French princess Margueritte.

Back in England Anne stood out because of her elegance and her wit and soon she caught King Henry's eye.

Anne must have thought that if she could marry him, she would be a queen in her own right, and she could rule as her rolemodels did. Only she forgot that while a mistress can flaunt the rules, a Queen must follow protocols.

After six years of bickering, several good men who were sent to the block and a country in uproar, Henry had had enough. And worst of all, Anne failed to deliver him his son. He needed to get rid of her, and in a better and swifter manner than he had done with Katherine.

Some forged charges were brought against Anne and she was sentenced to death. Henry was now free to marry another.

Was Anne a kind woman? No, I do not think she was. She was ruthlessly ambitious and she treated young Princess Mary very badly. She also encouraged Henry to be cruel to Katherine, even when she was very ill. Only when her own position was in danger, Anne turned to good works and religion to improve people's opinion of her.

But still, she was treated unfairly by Henry and the courtcase against her was completely bogus.

Alison Weir managed again to write a book so engaging you cannot put it down. I read the more than 500 pages in just 1 1/2 days because I loved it so much. I cannot wait for the next book.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Japanese art at the Rijksmuseum

Last week I took my mother to Amsterdam and we visited the Rijksmuseum. Purely by coincidence we ended up in the Asian art section of the museum. I must admit I am not a huge fan of Asian art, but there were a few things here I really liked.

These are all examples of art from Japan.
This first photograph is a detail from a painted screen. It was really delicate and beautiful.

These three paintings are also very delicate and they look very serene. They were painted on long strips of paper and looked almost like modern collages, while the painting itself was done in just a few simple swirls. But these were not modern at all, they were painted in the 18th and 19th century.

I am afraid these photographs do in no way show how absolutely beautiful these paintings are, but I hope they do give you some idea.
Tiger, Kono Bairai (1844-1895)

Birds after snowfall in the winter
Konoshima Okoku 1877-1938)
Lotus root and rat
Shibata Zeshin 1807-1891)

Friday, 9 June 2017

After the storm

Last week we had a lot of rain and storm in The Netherlands, it was almost like Autumn and nothing like Spring!
I had to secure my plants on the balcony because they were rolling around like crazy. Especially the small plants on the table were in danger.
My balcony through a very rainy window
But the day after I saw that the rain also makes for some beautiful photo's. So even in the rain, there is something to enjoy!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

What am I reading at the moment?

What have I read? 
In the past weeks I have read some absolutely amazing books. I have read a few beautiful Dutch novels and a Dutch non-fiction book about the writers Vasili Grossman and Isaak Babel who lived in Russia under Stalin. It was very interesting and good.

I also read a new Dutch translation of a book with six stories by Italian author Beppe Fenoglio. If there is an English translation, I will review it here as well. I love his writing very much, but not all of his books have been translated into Dutch, so that is a shame.

The new historical novel Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir was very good. A review will follow soon.

And I read a couple of Agatha Christies. I have re-read Passenger for Frankfurt in the hope it would be better than I remembered, but I am afraid it was even worse. It must be one of her worst books, it is boring and I almost did not finish it.
And I read They all came to Bagdad, which is not good, but funny (silly) enough to be enjoyable.

What am I reading at the moment? 
Another Agatha Christie is on my nightstand, Lord Edgeware dies and this is a good one.

I am also reading Fortuna's daughter by Isabelle Allende. This is a re-read and although I loved it when I read it years ago, it is taken me longer to get into the story this time.

And I am very excited to read The ballroom by Anna Hope. I am reading this with Lark, a little reading project like we did with My cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier. I only read a little over 100 pages so far, but it is well written and a very engaging story.

What am I looking forward to? 
There is a new book in the series about police inspector Harry Hole by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo! I was so happy when I heard that news that I ordered the book immediately and I cannot wait to start in it. (I can pick it up today).

I also have these two books lined up. The one on the left is written by the same author who wrote The Mussolini canal, which I absolutely loved. This book is a sequel, so I am eager to start in it.

Dead man's blues is the second book by Ray Celestin, who also wrote The axman's jazz, which I also absolutely loved. New Orleans, Louis Armstrong and a couple of good murders, what more can you want?

And after that I want to start in one of these two biographies. I just do not know yet which one. The one on the left is about photographer Diane Arbus and the one on the right is a combined book about Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl, who both grew up in Germany. When the Nazi's came into power Marlene Dietrich left Germany, and Leni Riefenstahl ended up making films for Hitler. I think it will be very interesting.

As you can see, I have some very good books lined up and I just could not be happier!

Friday, 2 June 2017

My balcony

Last week I cleaned my balconies and bought new plants for the Summer. I love buying new plants and making my balconies look like little paradises!

Here is my balcony that is next to my living room. It gets a lot of sun during the afternoon and it can get very warm here.
This first photograph is taken from the window.

Here you see the largest group of plants. On the old chair I have placed a huge basket with several different plants, all in blue. I love blue. The high white plant is a Jasmine and at the front you can vee three herbs, Thyme, Lavender and Sage. 

A small table and two chairs are all I need. On the table are a few plants, like Lavender and violets. My mum gave the violets to me, since we too my car to the garden-centre and that way she was also able to get her plants home.

In this corner I thought I had a great combination, but in truth the hydrangea does not like the sun, so I have placed him on the other balcony that is not as sunny as this one is. I hope he will be happier there.

This is the other balcony. Here is less sun, and it is a lot smaller. Since I never sit here, I do not put a lot of plants here, just a few to make it look nice. The orange plant is called in Dutch: Suzanna met de mooie ogen, Susannah with the beautiful eyes. I do not know what it is called in English. 

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