Book Review: The Binding – Bridget Collins

The Binding - Bridget Collins

About The Book

Imagine you could erase grief.
Imagine you could remove pain.
Imagine you could hide the darkest, most horrifying secret.
Forever.

Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder—a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice among their small community but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.

For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to hand-craft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, rows upon rows of books are meticulously stored.

But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesman who use their talents for dark ends—and just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten.

My Review

The Binding is a richly textured historical fiction novel with elements of magical realism. Set in an imagined past, books aren’t the portals into new worlds that we know them as, they are used to store memories you wish to forget and they are subsequently surrounded by suspicion and fear. Emmett Farmer is plucked from his life on his family’s farm to go and live with the mysterious Seredith, a binder. He has been brought up to believe that books are dark and dangerous and are something to fear but despite this he is now an apprentice working with them day after day.

This is a technically precise novel with intricate plotting which examines quite complex and emotive themes with a delicate touch. I feel that this review may be a little cloak and dagger as I allude to things rather than discuss in depth but this is a book that deserves to be read without any prior preconceptions so it can unfold beautifully.

Split into three acts, The Binding goes back and forth in time unveiling a beautiful and compelling story. I have to admit that I initially struggled with the book and very nearly abandoned it but there was something about the gorgeous writing that meant I persevered. I am so pleased that I did as The Binding turned out to be nothing like I thought it would be and became an immersive and overwhelming read.

Part one is all about the world building and a slow, tantalising build to parts two and three which is where all the action happens. I was blown away by how clever this book is and I understood the first part far more upon reflection. An initial read of the first act left me feeling a bit confused but all becomes clear as the book develops. This is heady, glorious writing with touches of magnificence especially when it comes to the characterisation and historical aspects which are beautiful.

I do need to be clear though, this isn’t a happy book and some of the events in the book and the themes examined may be difficult for some people to read. It is a novel about bad memories being wiped and those memories contain some things that readers may find upsetting or they could be triggers. For me though, the darkness was eloquently written and with pathos which meant that despite some of the subject matter I fell in love with the book and found it difficult to put down. I highly recommend it if gorgeous, immersive reads with a hint of magic are your thing.

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to Netgalley and to the publishers Borough Press for an advanced copy of The Binding in return for an honest review. The Binding is out now in ebook and is published today, 10th January 2019 in hardcover.

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