Imagine you could erase your grief.
Imagine you could forget your pain.
Imagine you could hide a secret.
Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition and prejudice – but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book and you will never remember your secret, however terrible.
In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and memories – are meticulously stored and recorded.
Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it.
THE BINDING is an unforgettable, magical novel: a boundary-defying love story and a unique literary event.
It’s no secret I started reading The Binding with excitement and curiosity, tinged with fear. After coming across some very positive reviews, I spotted Amanda (@bookishchat) telling Twitter that she was DNF’ing The Binding and when she proceeded to give away her proof copy, I was lucky enough to snap it up, although I could feel some vague trepidation blossoming, since I got the book because another blogger with notorious good tastes hated it… Hmmm. Before the ARC even arrived, I saw that Ova (@excusemyreading) had also DNF’d it and when I received the book and posted a photo on Twitter, Umut (@umutreviews) let me know she didn’t like it all that much either and had given it only 2 stars. My oh my! Still, I had the book, it was very pretty (so pretty I left it lying around on my desk at work so I could admire it even when I couldn’t read it) and at that point I really wanted to know why some people loved it to bits and others hated it enough to DNF it (because DNF’ing is the last resort, right?!). In summary: excitement, curiosity, trepidation.
Now, The Binding is divided into three parts and I see how readers might not get passed that first part. Many a page is spent explaining the lay of the land, laying the groundwork for the rest of the novel. While that didn’t exactly bore me, it did not make for riveting reading either. However, I was still intrigued by the whole binding thing and I wanted to find out more so I stuck with it. I did find the whole premise very interesting, even thought-provoking, the notion of binding people’s memories in books. I can’t imagine I could be the person I am today without remembering who I was before. Even the painful stuff, maybe especially the painful stuff, makes us who we are, doesn’t it?
The second part was much more to my liking, because this is the part where we find out Emmetts’s history and what was in his book, in other words: the memories that were bound in the pages of a book, and the events forgotten in the process, and I had the feeling that the story was finally kicking off for real. Said history includes Emmett growing up, his teenage years, his relationship with his sister, but also his falling in love… with another boy. Bear that in mind if teenage LGBT relationships are not your thing, though I do have to tell you there is little to none explicit content.
The third part? Well, that’s for you to find out. I don’t want to give anything away, better if I just keep my trap shut!
I think the problem (or one of the problems) with The Binding is that the reader doesn’t quite know what to expect, and consequently expects something that this book just isn’t, or finds something unexpected that is not to their liking. It is difficult to put The Binding in a genre. Is it fantasy? Yes, of course, because of the whole binding thing, but I did expect to find a little more fantasy. Is it a mystery then? Well yes, there is certainly some mystery, but again, less than I’d thought there would be. Is it romance? Yes, that too, and even more than I realised at the start. Emmett’s relationship is a big part of the story. So The Binding is a bit of a mix of genres, which is not a problem at all, you just have to realise that going in or else you might end up disappointed.
Before I call it a day, let me address some possible triggers.
In the beginning of the story there is mention of a rather gruesome crime. Since we don’t have to live it as readers (it is told, rather succinctly, after the facts) and since it is used as a reason and explanation for a binding, I do think that the author had good reason for including this in the narrative.
If you’re at all like me and you can’t stand animal cruelty then there is very tough scene to get through. Was it necessary for the plot? In my opinion not. It shows what kind of sick people there are in this world, but I think the reader is astute enough to realise that without said scene. It is, however, a very short scene and you can see it coming a mile away, so if need be, you can skip it.
Throughout the novel, it becomes obvious that binding, like so many things in real life, is used, is abused even, to benefit the rich to the detriment of the poor. Have a housemaid you’d like to take advantage of, have you? Sure, why not, go ahead, we’ll bind her memory of it in a book, she won’t remember a thing! And while we’re at it, we’ll give you the book afterwards too, so you can wallow in her despair and relive your glory times. Christ, I can’t even describe how disgusted I was, especially because I can imagine that if binding were a real possibility, those in high places would indeed take advantage of it. So there is quite a lot of mention of abuse. We have to live through very little but as it’s a major reason for binding, it’s mentioned quite a lot and although it’s not a trigger for me, I did feel my heart bleed for some of it. So if that is a major trigger for you, you’ll want to skip this novel.
I think we’ve established that I had high hopes but few expectations going in, which is probably why I did enjoy this book. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an “unforgettable, magical story” as the blurb of this ARC does, though, but still all things considered, an enjoyable read.
Many thanks to Amanda for sending me her proof copy! I’m so happy I liked it more than you did 😊