The Binding: The Perfect Marriage of Magical Realism and Historical Fiction

Spellbound – it’s one of those cliche things you say about books isn’t it – “Reading this left me spellbound” or “It’s a spellbinding read.” It works because as readers we understand what is meant, that this book drew you in, cast you under its magic and left you feeling bereft and lost without the world that it offered up. 

And yes this is how I felt about The Binding having finished it, but somehow it just doesn’t seem to do justice to how utterly wonderful this novel is. 

In fact I enjoyed it so much that I made no notes and highlighted precious few quotes. This will make this review a bit difficult to write! 

We join the novel as Emmett is sent away from his family farm, seemingly in disgrace but he is unsure why, other than a mysterious illness which has left him weak. He is sent to become an apprentice to Seredith an elderly binder who lives in almost complete seclusion. Her only visitors are tormented souls who wish to have their memories removed and bound into books. Her craft is little understood with many likening her to a witch. 

Emmett slowly begins to learn the craft of making books but Seredith is slow to teach him the magic of her craft. 

As the novel progresses we see how the rich and powerful have turned binding to their advantage, allowing them to cover up crimes and wrongdoings, whilst taking advantage of those less fortunate than themselves. And then there is the small matter of there being a book with his name on it. 

Now obviously as a bookworm the idea that books could just have been made up of people’s memories is really captivating and interesting. Novels are derided in the story as being “fakes” – essentially fictions designed to look like people’s memories. A good book always makes you feel as though you have had an insight into the narrator’s, or narrators’, world. In some cases they offer you an insight into the inner workings of their minds. Is it such a leap to imagine that books could really be made up of people’s memories? 

This has also been marketed as a historical fiction, and clearly it is meant to be set in some unidentified time and setting. I got the sense it was the Victorian era or earlier when there was much debate about the effect of novels on the minds of the young (more specifically their impact on young, sensitive women).  

The language too harks back to the past – it is flowery and descriptive – but I think that this helps to immerse the reader into the world of the story really quickly. Somehow it seems more believable when the language matched the tone. 

There is something wonderfully simplistic about the novel, people are good or evil, the plot moves along swiftly with few subplots to confuse and complicate. It is pure magical escapism. And yes the novel has much to say about capitalism, how those in power take advantage of others and also there is a romance which brings a double meaning to the term binding. For me though the joy of this novel is its ability to transport the reader into another world. 

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