Book #15

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Books are dangerous things in Collins's alternate universe, a place vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England. It's a world in which people visit book binders 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 having suffered some sort of mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, Emmett Farmer 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.

I thought this was a historical fiction tale about a bookbinder mastering his craft, which in a way it is, but it’s also a story of magic, love, longing, and determination. Books always contain a story, often a story which has been created by someone else’s mind. Here, in Emmett Farmer’s world, books are vessels for memories - real ones. Visit a binder and have your mind erased of a difficult time in your life, or sell them your wonderful memories for cash. There really is no happy situation where one would opt to wipe out parts of their lives, and that’s one of the factors which makes this book so desolate.

Emmett Farmer becomes a book binder’s apprentice at the beginning of the novel, and we set out on a journey with him as he learns his craft. Collins creates such an air of mystery and mysticism, making the entire process seem magical yet forbidden. We quickly realise Emmett’s apprenticeship has much more of a history than we’d initially thought, and we’re plunged into a world of deception in order to pursue the truth.

My only disappointment was with Emmett’s career as a binder. It was too short lived - I wanted to see the process. I wanted to hear clients' stories, see their memories taken; I wanted to watch them being immortalised in books, and see the transformation of a person who has had entire chunks of their life removed from their recollections. This would have been a powerful and engaging situation to be involved with, and I found it a shame we didn’t get to see it happen in detail more than once.

I truly enjoyed this quest for understanding, and hadn’t expected the heartbreak I’d find here. Collins has crafted her characters beautifully, their choices and motivations were so clear, their ultimate wants were my own. I loved each of them deeply, and was hellbent alongside them to correct the world using destruction.

A wonderful creation of a world where books are dangerous and feared, where memories are a commodity, and where crossing social or political lines can erase everything you thought about the world.