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The Binding by Bridget Collins — book review

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“Bindings are for desperate people. People who can’t go anywhere else.”

Surprising, occasionally frustrating, and relentlessly sad, The Binding never seemed to reach its full potential. I was genuinely intrigued by the premise (an alternative history in which book binders get rid of people’s ‘bad’ memories?) even if I know that the whole ‘memory-erasing’ idea isn’t wholly original (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, More Happy Than Not).

Throughout the first section of The Binding Bridget Collins’ keeps her cards close to her chest. We gather that the setting is in an alternative 19th-century England and that our narrator, Emmett Farmer, has just recovered from a mysterious illness. When Seredith, an old and secluded binder, requests that he become her apprentice, Emmett is left no choice and has to leave his parents’ farm. While working under Seredith’s roof Emmett briefly meets a young man whose appearance and behaviour stick to his mind.
When Seredith finally reveals Emmett what ‘book binding’ truly is, he’s uneasy about the whole thing.
The second and third section of the book take us down slightly different paths, although I must admit that the final part of the novel felt like a rehash of the first part.
I liked the ambiguity created by Emmett’s not knowing what happened to him or why Lucian Darnay’s face haunts him so. The book binding itself raises some thought-provoking questions about consent, and the characters do discuss the ethics of erasing someone’s memory. Sadly it seemed that it was mostly older men using binders to ‘erase’ their crimes (making binders wipe the memories of their victims/witnesses who were often women, quelle surprise).
The setting is rudimentary: vaguely historical, with little about this England’s history, and the narrative mostly focus on the class divide between those like Emmett and those like Lucian, without really expanding on other aspects of this ‘alternative’ English society. A few characters mention terms such as the ‘Crusades’ or ‘deportation’ but other than that we have little information about this country. I would also have liked at one point or another to have more details about the book binding itself (when did it start? how many binders are there? etc…).
The romance was a bit disappointing too. One of them always seemed to hate the other, and I couldn’t really see why all of a sudden they were in love. The whole plot involving their horrible families was frustrating. Emmett and his love interest are manipulated time and again (Emmett’s sister was a HORRIBLE little monster, and I should feel sorry for her? As if!). The story seems to fall into a pattern where Emmett and Lucian are made to suffer. They are sad, and sad, and some sad some more.
Towards the end they both do some questionable and out-of-character things, seemingly disregarding the safety and lives of other people…which okay.
The story didn’t feel all that ‘solid’, there were some rather shaky aspects that made sense for ‘plot reason’, too much time was spent on the two leads mistrusting one another, the few secondary characters were pretty one-dimensional, and the final part went all over the place, and eventually lead to a rushed ending that left so many things unresolved.
Still, Collins’ does create an intriguing atmosphere and the changes in tone and pace in the story kept things interesting.
All in all, I liked it more than not and I would definitely read something else by Collins.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

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