The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding cover

The Binding is a powerful and engrossing novel with a memorable premise. Emmett Farmer works on his family’s farm, fighting a strange illness. When a letter comes summoning him to become a binder’s apprentice and learn how to bind books—something surrounded with superstition and fear—it feels like they’re trying to get rid of him. But what he learns is that book binding isn’t a simple craft: it is allowing people to forget memories, to bind them away in books regardless of what they are. And when he finds a book with his name on, the question is, what has he forgotten? And who is the strange young man who got a binding just after Emmett started at the binding workshop?

This is a genre-defying book that feels at first like a kind of historical fantasy, and turns into a love story and a look at the power of forgetting and the dangers of being able to do so. Split into three sections, the narrative is carefully unfurled in a way that makes it heartbreaking, but with the hope of a happy ending. Collins does well to give enough detail to move the narrative forward, whilst constantly holding back and teasing details. It was difficult to put down due to this and the need for the circumstance-defying love story in its centre to be resolved and to see Emmett and the man he has forgotten properly reunited. Emmett’s relationship with his sister was a highlight too, a well-written version of bickering yet loving siblings who find something come between them.

The Binding didn’t sound like the kind of book I’d usually find this gripping and the opening felt more light historical fantasy than I would normally pick up, but it quickly became a riveting story of love and injustice. The concept of the book binding was well worked out, but there was never a need to explain how it fit into the world; instead, Emmett’s story was the focal point, which made it emotional and character-driven. It is a fascinating look at what would happen if people could chose to forget certain memories, the ways in which it could be exploited, and the lengths to go to get those memories back.