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Book review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

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In our last exchange from the State Library we received the audio book copy of The Binding by Bridget Collins. My colleague Petal borrowed it right away. For the next week or two as she listened to it, she raved about the book and when she was finished she handed it to me and said, “You HAVE to read this – it’s right up your alley!” Now, Petal knows me well and so I didn’t even read the blurb, I just started listening to it and instantly I was hooked – despite the story being in first person (which normally makes me cringe).

The story is technically a fantasy set in an alternate Victorian era but it’s not like some fantasy novels where everyone has unpronounceable names, the family trees are convoluted, and the politics even more so. It’s easy to follow from the very start as we meet Emmett Farmer, a young man who is recovering from a mysterious illness. He’s been unable to help out on the family farm and so when he receives a letter from a Book Binder, offering him an apprenticeship, his parents decide it is for the best.

This leaves Emmett rather confused as books are taboo objects, regarded with fear and disdain and his one and only experience with a book as a child led to a thrashing from his father. Weak and still sickly, he has no choice but to obey and he soon finds himself on the marshes, apprenticed to Seredith, who begins to teach him the incidentals of book making without teaching him anything at all about binding itself. It therefore comes as a shock to Emmett when he discovers that books are actually memories, trapped by a Binder between two end pages, leaving the Bound free of the memories they most want to forget.

Woven amongst the mystery is a love story and I admit that I have a weakness for the romantic trope of enemies to friends to lovers. What I adore the most however is the LGBTQ+ representation in the book, something that we don’t see anywhere near enough of these days. The characters suffer from negative backlash from society and their families but there is no internalised homophobia, just the thrill of discovery and the heart pounding joy of new love.

Narrators can make or break an audiobook, and Carl Prekopp’s performance is absolutely brilliant. I honestly don’t think I would have appreciated this book as much if I had simply read it myself; the characters just come alive thanks to him. Having said that, the language Collins uses, the way she weaves her story, is breathtaking. It flows with poetic grace but isn’t pretentious or confusing, and is a joy to read.

The story explores some dark themes, and it can be very confronting at times, leaving the reader shaking with rage and indignation. If you can hold your own against the angst however, I really think you’ll enjoy this very unique premise. It’s a fascinating, magical journey of love, loyalty, and the power differences between the classes.