“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 more harm. That’s all books are.”
Published in 2019, The Binding by Bridget Collins is set in a fantasy world, vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England, in which people visit bookbinders to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories. Once their stories have been told and are bound between the pages of a book, the slate is wiped clean and their memories lose the power to hurt or haunt them. After a mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, 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.
The Binding is a book that I’ve had on my shelf for a very long time, lured in by the bookstagram hype and gorgeous cover. So I finally made it my mission to get this one read, and I absolutely loved it!
I didn’t know much about the plot before going into it, so I loved the concept of binding memories and books being somebody’s life story. My favourite film is Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind because I love that question of whether it’s better to forget a relationship because of a bad ending or to have the good memories from the start to look back on. So I was instantly gripped by this story.
Which was worse? To feel nothing, or to grieve for something you no longer remembered? Surely when you forgot, you’d forget to be sad, or what was the point? And yet that numbness would take part of your self away, it would be like having pins-and-needles in your soul.
The story exhumes magic and imagination, and I love this fictional fantasy world that Collins has created. It’s original and spellbinding, and she does an exceptional job of trying to fill all of the loop holes, as well, exploring the ideas of people who sell their bad memories to forget, people who are forced to sell their memories for the benefit of others, people who sell their good memories for money, and people who use memories for blackmail.
But then comes the relationships, and wow, I loved these characters. Beautifully written and compelling, it’s a gorgeous combination of romance, fantasy and historical fiction.
The only reason I haven’t given this a full 5 stars is that I feel like the ending was a bit rushed and I wanted more of an emotional finale. Aside from that, I loved it. This is definitely a book that will remain on my shelf for years to come and one that I can’t wait to revisit in the future.