This has been a surprise hit for Bridget Collins and is her first adult novel. She has previously written seven young adult novels and had two plays produced and after reading this I will be definitely following up and reading her young adult work.
The Binding packs an emotional wallop as Collins puts her main characters through a lot of near misses, tragedy and high drama. But it is the premise of the story that grabbed me and made me both think and become emotionally invested in the outcome.
Billed as a medieval fantasy this is definitely a work of fiction. But it does challenge our world view. What would you live without if you could truly forget what gives you emotional pain? In The Binding, you can do just that. A binder is a talent, someone who can take your painful memory and bind it in a book and you immediately forget. But what do you lose of yourself when you forget? And what happens when those with this talent use it without consent, take memories for sale from those with nothing else to sell, and to sell these true tales for salacious readers who can tell a fake – those novels that are nothing but works of fiction?
The story unfolds with the reader meeting Emmett, a teenager being sent away from his family, the farm he has known and we learn he has had a long illness and the family relationships are strained and he does not know why. He is apprenticed to Seredith, an elderly woman, who teaches him to make books, beautiful hand tooled books, and it is his exile but his health improves but he has a long dangerous journey to understand what he is apprenticed to do as his family have kept him away from books his whole life. And this is another fascinating aspect of The Binding, the nature of books and what they contain. How they can produce fear, scorn, pain and there is a strange sinister element when burning books is mentioned. Questions of the issue of the Binder’s trade to enforce the silence of the powerless are also raised as the story takes a dark turn and Emmett is tossed into forces he does not understand, and then he finds a book with his name on it.
There is wickedness, a forbidden love story that surprises the reader and Emmett and a quest to understand a history that is lost. Collins has produced a sometimes hauntingly beautiful love story, a parable of good and evil, innocence and of wicked misuse, the crushing of innocence, and created a world where books have a mystical power that are feared by the uneducated and coveted and misused by those in power.
Totally recommend this as a great read.
The Guardian review can also be found here