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The Binding by Bridget Collins

Emmett Farmer has only once been struck by his father and that was when he was discovered reading a book that he had purchased at a fair. Why is it, then, that his parents have decided that he must immediately leave the family farm he has always worked on and expected, one day, to inherit and to be apprenticed to a book binder? He knows that his parents distrust books, that they believe they are to be feared and avoided. Could his parents’ decision have anything to do with the mysterious illness which so consumed him for the past months that he can barely remember what happened.

Through Seredith, the frail old woman he is apprenticed to, Emmett discovers the role of the bookbinder. Those who come tell the secrets and griefs they can no longer bear to carry. The bookbinder’s task is to record their stories and then to bind them inside a book. The client, then, though diminished by the experience is left with no memory of the story which has so troubled them.

When Seredith dies, however, Emmett is apprenticed to her son and there learns that bookbinding may be exploited for both corrupt and commercial purposes. Stories can be sold. Those in power can arrange a ‘binding’ to remove memories which may be damaging to them.

The novel provokes questions about secrecy and truth and choices regarding denying or squarely facing the darker aspects of life. Beautifully written and cleverly crafted, ‘The Binding’ is sumptuously rich, filled with magic and stays with you long after reading.

Reviewer: Paddy Richardson

HarperCollins, RRP 35.00