If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve recently become obsessed with The Binding by Bridget Collins, and so far I’ve convinced two of my friends to read this book — and they’ve both rated it 5 stars!
I just can’t stop thinking about this magical, soft but vividly intense novel. I was desperate to write a review of this book, but when I sat down to write one, my brain was just *white noise.*
So I thought I’d write up a list of reasons why this book is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life.
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.
CW: rape, physical and sexual abuse, incest, murder, suicide, homophobia and animal cruelty
Not many people know this, but The Binding is super freaking gay. While neither Emmett or Lucian state their sexuality, both boys are queer as heck! I suspect Emmett is bi and Lucian is gay, but again it’s not stated. And their romance is so beautiful and touching, I wanted to cry.
Emmett and Lucian have this amazing chemistry but for a good portion of the book, their romance is devastating and heartbreaking. I can’t say anymore without spoiling the entire book but don’t worry: it ends on a happy ending!
It’s A Book about Books
I don’t know about you, but one of my all-time favourite things in novels is when a book is about books — or features books in them. And this one definitely does!
In this world, books are discarded memories. Basically, people visit bookbinders in order to have their memories taken from them — whether they are painful memories, or memories they want to sell because they need money — and bound into a book. They forget this memory, unless someone burns the book that contains this memory.
But this world is also a treacherous world. There are some people — some bookbinders, some not — who sell books to others to be read, which is illegal. The worldbuilding in The Binding is absolutely incredible and so very, very unique.
The writing is lyrical
If you’re someone, like me, who absolutely adores beautiful and lyrical prose, then The Binding is definitely the book for you.
Collins’ writing pulls you in from the very first page and doesn’t let up until the very end. And even then I wanted to keep reading and I am desperate for a sequel!
Here’s my favourite quote:
“It’s a sacred calling Emmett. To have another person’s memory entrusted to you…To take the deepest, darkest part away from them and keep it safe forever. To honour it, to make it beautiful, even though nobody else will see it.”
It has unlikeable characters that you can’t help but root for
A lot of the characters in this book will anger you … and that’s the point. This book is highly realistic, even though it’s soft fantasy, and a lot of people in this world are just plain shitty.
You definitely see the absolute worst of people in The Binding, but we must also recognise that grief and trauma can affect people in different ways. But also: sometimes terrible people are terrible and don’t have some profound reason for being so. And I really appreciate that this book acknowledges that.
But our two main characters, who, yes, can be a little bit unlikeable sometimes, are still amazing and loveable. Emmett is very rough on the outside and hides his true self from people. He’s very mean to Lucian when they first meet, but that’s only because he has so many emotions, he doesn’t know how to deal with them. He’s actually a big softie. Lucian, on the other hand, is cold and selfish and privileged. But that facade is just hiding a terrified boy inside.
It features mental illness rep
Lucian, one of the main characters, has depression and his experience of it in this novel closely relates to my own. He suffers so deeply, from his unbearable father, to the expectations placed on a man in his class, and even from Emmett at times. There’s moments where Lucian almost gives in to his depression, but he has Emmett there to keep him grounded.
It’s about trauma
My favourite books to read are ones that delve deep into trauma and how to, slowly, deal with it. Sometimes trauma can be completely overcome, but more often than not, we have to learn how to live with it and not allow it to destroy us.
That’s what The Binding does. Emmett and Lucian are both trying to deal with trauma in very different ways and the book never minimises it: instead, they come together to deal with their trauma and learn to lean on each other.
This book can be difficult to read at times because the content is so heavy, but it’s also incredibly important. The Binding tackles with rape, abuse, imbalances of power, murder, suicide, and homophobia — but does so in a sensitive way.
Even though this book is about people taking their traumatic memories and binding them up between the pages of a book, its core message is that we are more than our trauma and we shouldn’t allow it to destroy us.
Have you read The Binding? Do you love it as much as I do? Let me know!