The devil’s bargain. Was that what Seredith did? The bitch, the old witch… I tried to lay the coloured paper on top of the white, but I missed. Clumsy hands, stupid trembling hands. Even if she has to sell her soul. But what did that have to do with books, with paper and leather and glue?
This book. This book. I realise this is a review, and I need to actually try and form coherent sentences and explain why I love it so much, but before I get started I will just say THIS BOOK IS BEAUTIFUL INSIDE AND OUT, I TEARED UP AT THE END, EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ IT AND FEEL MY PAIN.
Right, now that’s out of the way… Review time.
The Binding is set in a world that isn’t entirely fantastical – there are no unicorns or wizards or anything – but it isn’t entirely historical either, though it is spellbinding. I read all 448 pages of it in a couple of days, I couldn’t put it down. The key difference between the book’s world and ours is the purpose of, and fear surrounding, books. ‘No one had ever explained why books were shameful’, Emmett Farmer, the protagonist and narrator of the story tells us. The reason books are so widely feared is because of a group of people called binders – the majority of books in this world are not novels, but instead containers for people’s memories. If there is something in your life you would rather forget – grieving, heartbreak and so on – you can go to a binder and have that memory taken from you, and put in a book to be kept safe in a vault forever. The story of The Binding begins when Emmett, working on his father’s farm, is apprenticed to a binder who lives in the marshes, whom people fear and suspect of being a witch. As he begins his apprenticeship he not only learns more about physical book-binding and the art of moving memories into books, but he also learns more about himself… particularly after he finds a book with his name on it. He has been bound, but has no memories of it. What has he forgotten? Or been forced to forget?
I can’t tell you that because of spoilers, but suffice to say the book veered off in a very different direction to what I was expecting, and it was truly surprising. When I had to put the book down to go to a rehearsal, I had this warm feeling of excitement in my tummy – I was so reluctant to put it down and so excited to keep reading to see what would happen next. At one point, something was revealed that made me want to stop reading and start the book again with this new knowledge in mind – I can’t explain this further but it was so cleverly and cunningly done! There were so many unexpected twists and turns, beautifully crafted characters, and sensitively developed relationships – nothing and no-ne felt extraneous and everything had its place. The plot was expertly crafted, just like the books that Seredith makes.
‘…knowledge is always a kind of magic, I suppose.’
The way in which Collins coveys her unusual setting, plot, and characters not only gives the book its almost fairy-tale-esque and magical atompshere, but her writing is beautiful in and of itself. Take this example from page 8 – ‘I trudged beside her, so exhausted I felt drunk. The darkness thickened, pooling under the trees and in hedges, while the moonlight bleached the stars out of the sky.’ From Emmet’s father’s farm to the binder’s workshop to the streets of Castleford and the ruins in the fields, the world is vividly conveyed and it is almost a character in itself. There is also a change of narrators at one point in the book, and both characters are written beautifully – you really feel for both of them, in their very different situations, and even the more minor characters are given a great deal of depth and complexity. The siblings truly felt like siblings, and the development of one relationship in particular felt authentic and heartbreaking. This is truly a beautiful book, inside and out.
Novels, they call them. They must be much cheaper to produce. You can copy them, you see. Use the same story over and over […] It makes one wonder who would write them. People who enjoy imagining misery, I suppose. People who have no scruples about dishonesty. People who can spend days writing a long sad lie without going insane.
I don’t want to risk saying anything more in case I spoil the story for you – I don’t even want to tell you one of my favourite parts, because I want you to be as surprised and excited with the revelation as I was. On the outset this book seems to be fairly simple story of a book-binder’s apprentice, but it is so much more than that. The story is intense, emmersive and exquistie – I know I will be returning to this story again and again.