The Binding by Bridget Collins

With its attractive cover and intriguing premise, I hoped for great things from The Binding, but sadly it was not to be. I could tell almost from the beginning that it was probably not the right book for me, but I continued anyway, hoping it would get better – and it did. For a while in the middle I found myself enjoying it…but by the time I reached the end my feelings had turned to disappointment again and I wished I had followed my first instincts and stopped reading early on. For the right reader, though, I think this will probably be the great read it promised to be, so don’t let me put you off if you like the sound of the book!

The Binding is set in an unspecified time period, but there were clues that pointed to the late 19th century. Most of the action takes place in and around Castleford, a town in West Yorkshire, but it really could be anywhere. I’m sure the vagueness is deliberate because, as you’ll see, the world of The Binding is not quite the same as our own.

The novel begins with young Emmett Farmer receiving a summons to take up an apprenticeship as a bookbinder. He is reluctant to go – because he doesn’t want to leave his parents, his sister and the family farm, and also because he has always been told that books are dangerous and should be avoided – but it seems he is to be given no choice in the matter. Arriving at Seredith’s isolated bindery in the countryside, he learns from her the art of producing beautiful leather-bound books. But the real skill is involved in creating the contents…

Binders have a talent for drawing out unhappy or painful memories from people’s minds and trapping them between the covers of a book. With their memory wiped clean that person can then move on with the rest of their life, while the secrets of their past remain locked away in a vault. It’s a fascinating ability, but one which is open to abuse. What if one of these books falls into the wrong hands? What if someone is forced to have their memories bound because someone else wants them to forget? It’s a fascinating concept and the novel explores many of the equally fascinating issues that arise from it.

The book was divided into three sections and I think this structure caused some of the problems. In the first third of the book, we learned very little about Emmett even though he was our narrator and protagonist. His background was not really described in any detail, his relationships with his family and then with Seredith didn’t feel fully developed and I couldn’t even have told you what sort of personality he had. When the middle section of the story began to unfold, I understood why so much had been concealed from us and I was pleased to finally begin learning more about Emmett and the other characters – but by that time it was too late for me to feel the connection to them that I would have liked to have felt from the beginning.

I also think I’d had the wrong expectations for this book. I thought there would be a stronger fantasy element and that the concept of binding would play a bigger part in the story than it actually did. Instead, I couldn’t help feeling that the binding was only really there to provide a sort of framework for a romance between Emmett and another character. It’s disappointing because I think there was a lot of potential here and a lot of other intriguing ways that the binding idea could have been used. I’m sure there will be other readers who love this book, particularly those who enjoy young adult romances, but it just wasn’t quite right for me.

15 thoughts on “The Binding by Bridget Collins

  1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

    Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this one! I just picked up a copy with some leftover money from Christmas and I’m looking forward to giving it a try – the concept really intrigues me. 🙂

  2. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus says:

    I really enjoyed reading your review. I think I will have a similar reaction to this book. It was interesting to note that you thought the binding would play a larger part in this book. That is what I disliked in the book The Miniaturist. It was the title of the book but the miniaturist in the story hardly played any vital or central role. I think I will skip The Binding.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I felt the same way about The Miniaturist – I was disappointed that the mystery surrounding the miniaturist was never really explained or explored.

  3. buriedinprint says:

    I know what you mean about wishing that a particular concept that seemed central to the book was actually more prominent in the story. And I understand Diana’s comment about The Miniaturist for that reason, too: I was really expecting more dollhouse details in that one too. And I do think Jessie Burton has a fantastic book there, but it was hard to set aside the expectations that I had (from the cover, the marketing, etc.) to see how good it actually is, beyond my initial not-enough-dollhouse disappointment! I would want a good bit of bookbinding in this one too!

    • Helen says:

      There was a lot of hype surrounding The Miniaturist and I think it probably did lead to people having certain expectations of it that weren’t really met. Maybe you would enjoy The Binding more than I did, as there is quite a bit of bookbinding in it (of the traditional kind rather than the magical).

  4. Lark says:

    Sounds like you should almost read the middle section first. And it’s disappointing that the fantasy element wasn’t stronger. Sorry this one wasn’t better.

  5. readingevolution says:

    I found your post because I was worried that the marketing of this book was going to be like The Miniaturist and The Toymakers, both of which I hoped would have stronger fantasy elements – thank you for the review!

    • Helen says:

      I think the marketing for this book is slightly misleading. It’s more of a teen romance with a few fantasy elements built around it. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy it, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for!

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