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The Ballroom Cafe by Ann O'Loughlin - Review

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

I've had this book on my shelves since 2016. Recently Lee and I have been going through all the books again and I've tried to cull ones which I know I won't read. I feel bad - because books! - but I know it's for the best, and I'm going to donate them to a local charity which will sell them at a tombola to raise funds, so that's good.

Anyway as I've been going through the books, I've pulled out ones that I want to read soon. There's a huge pile next to my bed now! This was one of these. I can't remember where I first heard of it, but the premise appealed to me.

The book is set in Ireland in 2008. That confused me slightly, as it wasn't published until several years after that, which put the timelines out somewhat and made things confusing. Two sisters, Ella and Roberta, live in their crumbling family home, a huge mansion house on the edge of a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business. They are both elderly women, and they have not spoken to each other in decades. The house has huge loans on it and the bank are pressuring for repayment.

Ella decides to open a cafe in the house's ballroom. Roberta leaves scathing notes warning her against it, saying that she will bring scandal upon them all and open up old secrets. Ella leaves notes in reply ignorning her sister and saying that she has to make some money somehow.

A lady called Debbie turns up to the house one day. She is American, and after the recent death of her father she has discovered that she was adopted in Ireland. She and Ella become quick friends and Debbie helps to run the cafe. She goes to the convent to try to find answers about her mother, but comes up against closed doors and no answers. She takes to the radio to demand answers, and a dam breaks.

Meanwhile we get to know the tragedies Ella has been through in her life, and what happened between her and Roberta. The cafe is a success, mostly because the post mistress Muriel Hearty and other busybodies of the town are desperate to know what's going on.

I felt like there was a lot of the book that was pretty predictable, and there was just a lot of detail that wasn't needed. It's really oddly written too - totally overwritten and frothy in parts, especially in parts that are really sad and could have used a lighter, more sensitive touch. Then there's other parts that are just totally skated over when more detail is needed. It reads like a romance novel, but really isn't.

There's also quite graphic mention of two suicides, which I felt wasn't needed.

I'm giving this three out of five - despite really wanting to read it, I didn't find it my cup of tea at all.


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