The Binding by Bridget Collins (Review)

Quote: Which was worse? To feel nothing; or to grieve for something you no longer remembered?

We take memories and bind them. Whatever people can’t bear to remember. Whatever they can’t live with. We take those memories and put them where they can’t do any harm. That’s all books are.

I picked this book up because I walked past it every day in the windows at Waterstones and the cover and the pages and the hardback under the cover was so beautiful I couldn’t resist. I didn’t actually know anything about it, but when everyone kept telling me it was amazing I finally jumped into it. I wish I’d read it earlier, honestly.

Edit 18/02/2021: It’s come out in the last couple of days that Bridget Collins has been liking and following transphobic content on Twitter. Personally, I no longer recommend these books – I’m extremely wary of books with queer themes written by authors who engage with transphobic content. Please bear this in mind when considering The Binding as a book to read.

Rating: 4.5 stars!

The plot:

Books are dangerous in Emmett Farmer’s world. It’s a world in which people visit book binders to rid themselves of painful memories. Once their stories have been told and are bound between the pages of a book, the slate is wiped clean and the story they tell is forgotten. After having suffered some sort of breakdown, though the details of it are blurry, Emmett is sent to the workshop of one such binder to live and work as her apprentice. Leaving behind home and family, Emmett slowly regains his health while learning the binding trade. He is forbidden to enter the locked room where books are stored, so he spends many months marbling end pages, tooling leather book covers, and gilding edges. But his curiosity is piqued by the people who come and go from the inner sanctum, and the arrival of the lordly Lucian Darnay, with whom he senses a connection, changes everything.

What did I think?

I’m glad I was pre-warned that this book was dark (thanks Lucy) because I think it would have taken me by surprise otherwise. But I love dark books and this book was incredible. I also had no idea that it was a queer book until I got into part two and I started to Get Suspicious and start hurling conspiracies at my best friend. I was delighted to be right, even if this isn’t the kind of happy go lucky gay book I usually read.

The writing in this book is astonishingly good, which I’m sure everybody knew from how popular it was. It’s put Bridget Collins tentatively on my insta-buy list after one book which is rare, and I’ve already preordered the equally beautiful looking The Betrayals. I ended up reading The Binding in one sitting because once I’d started digging into Emmett’s story, I couldn’t look away. Though the ending is hopeful, I reiterate that this is not really a happy story. There are happy moments and beautiful moments, and there’s a whole middle section that reads like a hell of a rom-com, but there’s a lot of darkness entangled in the premise of this book.

In this alternate world, books are bound memories. If you have something you want to forget, or if you just need the money badly enough, you can visit a binder and tell your story. The binder will listen and once you’re finished they’ll bind a book with your memories trapped inside and you can forget all about them. By its very nature, the book binding makes this book sad. There’s stories of incest, rape, abuse all drawn out of the heads of people who are desperate to forget – or who don’t have a choice. When Emmett finds a book with his name on it, he wants to know what it is that he chose to forget. The book is split into three sections of a sort. Before Emmett remembers, the remembering and the aftermath. By virtue of the binding itself I knew that the middle section was going to be sad, because nothing ends well when it ends with someone losing their memories, but despite the sad moments I adored this book and the characters in it.

The Binding is a story about memory and about power dynamics and families and the darker sides of each, and there’s a lot to be cautious about here. If you want a dark story that’s gloriously well written, you can’t go wrong with the Binding and I’m sure I’ll find myself wandering back to it to have my feelings hurt again soon.


Add it on Goodreads here!

Buy at Hive if you can and support your local indie booksellers! Also available at Waterstones and Amazon.

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