The Binding is set in a world where reading books is a much more complex, dangerous activity than it is for us. Books do not contain mere stories, but memories that have been removed and bound – think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with books. Emmett Farmer is sent to be a binder’s apprentice after recovering from an illness that seems to have driven a wedge between him and his family. He goes innocently, not understanding the nature of books, but with a change of employer he soon comes to learn of the dark side of the profession.
The moment when it is revealed that powerful men are using bindings to get away with sustained abuse we realise just how sinister the concept can become. Corruption and greed of some binders facilitate this, whereas the more noble adhere to a stricter moral code, only permitting a binding once per person. The novel may have the air of the Victorian period but this abuse of power and the complicity of those willing to look the other way is an issue that feels very relevant to the world we’re living in now.
The blurb and press around it doesn’t give much away of the crux of the tale. Split into three parts, after the first it becomes apparent that at its heart is a love story, one of learning to accept yourself despite rampant prejudice and discrimination. The way in which the story is told is interesting – the narrative point of view shifts between the two lovers, leaving the reader to be led by the character whose memory has been wiped. By the time you reach part three you know the full story but your narrator doesn’t and it is hard to watch the fallout. We come to understand the emotional devastation that can be wrought from a binding and how damaging it can be when you discover you’ve been bound with no way of finding out why. The mind naturally jumps to the worst case scenario and we watch as they struggle with intense guilt, doubting their morality with the help of those who genuinely behave atrociously.
An intriguing novel cleverly constructed to keep the reader hooked. There is much left unanswered and the side characters have such promise that is often left untapped, leaving you wanting to know more, to see how their story ends. A fantastical setting for a very human story.