My final book for the month of May in my theme of Words, Books and Writing is The Binding by Bridget Collins. This has been a popular book since it has been published and I saw it in a second-hand bookshop recently at a great price so I bought it. I have to say that the excellent cover design was also a factor – it looks great.
This is a fantasy novel which has an intriguing premise. The idea is that there is a world, based on rural England at about the time of the Industrial Revolution, where memories can be erased by people known as binders who remove the troublesome memory and trap it in a book. If you read a book you are reading someone’s memories. In the countryside binders are mistrusted and feared but in the towns they are fashionable, poor people may sell their memories for money and there is a thriving black market in these books.
Emmet Farmer lives with his family on a farm. He has been ill and he is no longer able to do what is needed so he becomes apprenticed to a binder who lives in isolation on the marsh. It appears that Emmett has a talent for binding but he doesn’t really understand what he is doing until events take him to town and he begins to understand how the craft works and also how it can be used in the hands of those who are unscrupulous.
This book is in three parts. The first two are told by Emmett and the third by another character but also involving Emmett. The story tells how personal experience of binding and being bound has changed the lives and perceptions of Emmett and other characters. The message of the book is that we are the sum of all our experiences and losing some of these results in us not being all that we can be.
I thought the idea of this book was really clever. Sadly, I did not enjoy the story. I thought it was a book much easier to put down than take back up. As there has been great acclaim for this story I struggled to work out why it didn’t engage me. I came to the conclusion that the way that the narrative is told made me unsettled. In the first part of the book Emmett is confused and unhappy. In the second part of the book he is mostly petulant and jealous, and even when he is happy the reader knows that what is happening will come to an unfortunate end (which it does – and there is an act of violence to a dog as part of this which may establish the character of a person but which is very unpleasant to read). In the third part of the book the character who narrates it (I am trying not to spoil the story) is also confused and unhappy. This makes the whole book quite an uncomfortable read. All the other characters are very unpleasant, unhelpful, downright evil or victims. It is not fun to be in the company of these people without really knowing what is going on. There is little background given and few minor characters who have any depth so the book concentrates only on two people who are unhappy or confused and who act irrationally for a lot of the book.
I am in a definite minority in my views on this book. Most people loved it so if the story idea excites you I would give it a go and see what you think.