The Binding

The Binding front cover

Author: Bridget Collins

Finished on: 1 March 2020

Where did I get this book: A kindle read

There’s something special about a book about books. Even when these are books but not as we know them, Jim.

Fictional novels are considered horrible and immoral in The Binding. Our protagonist wonders at one point who would write them. ‘People who can spend days writing a long sad lie without going insane’ is his conclusion – a delicious glimpse into the real world of Bridget Collins, perhaps.

But, for most of The Binding, we are very much not in the real world. It’s an impressive feat of imagination – what books might be in a parallel universe that differs from our own in a few crucial ways.

Collins employs the perfect structure with which to tell us this story. She cleverly, and very gradually, builds up a full picture of what has happened to our cast of characters.

Emmett Farmer is, yes, a farmer who, after a shady and shameful illness of some kind, is taken on as an apprentice bookbinder. His employer, the elderly Seredith, is clearly a witch as well as a bookbinder – in fact, the two things come hand-in-hand in this world.

Emmett and Seredith develop an unlikely but moving bond, living their weird isolated life together with only books and the odd mysterious visitor for company. This is essentially a kind of parallel universe-Victorian science fiction. Where the science is magic. And it’s a fascinating and fully realised world.

As the great mystery around the books Emmett is learning to bind unfolds and the multiple layers of plot are revealed, we get to the core of the story. What emerges is a good old-fashioned love story; an alluring combination of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Collins keeps us guessing right until the end how it will pan out. She builds her world slowly and convincingly, and the strongest section of the story is when this is all established – we’ve unravelled the mystery of Emmett’s past but can’t predict his future.

Novels may be long sad lies – but this is definitely a gripping and enjoyable one.

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