The Blurb (from Goodreads):
Imagine you could erase grief.
Imagine you could remove pain.
Imagine you could hide the darkest, most horrifying secret.
Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder—a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice among their small community but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to hand-craft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, rows upon rows of books are meticulously stored.
But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesman who use their talents for dark ends—and just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten.
I bought this book because of the cover, and because Tracy Chevalier had called it ‘spellbinding’, and because quite a few people I follow on social media had been raving about it.
Well, now it’s my turn to rave.
The Binding is one of those books that transcend genres. It should most probably be defined as historical fantasy, but the magic is so close to our own reality that its really only a couple of turns of the dial away from magic realism. It’s a love story, but so delicately developed it’s unlike most romances I’ve ever read. And it’s a book about the power of books, something that always draws me irresistibly.
The setting is very much like Victorian Britain, with hansom cabs and top hats. The story begins as a first-person narrative, from the point of view of a young man named Emmet Farmer. He’s been deliriously ill, and is having trouble recovering. A summons come: he has been chosen to be apprenticed to a Bookbinder.
Emmett doesn’t want to go. Bookbinders are regarded with superstitious distrust and suspicion. There is something unnatural about their craft, something uncanny. Emmett has no choice, however. He has a vocation, he’s been told.
The Bookbinder is an old woman who lives on the edge of the marsh. Local villagers think her a witch. Slowly Emmett comes to understand theat the craft of a Bookbinder is to take away people’s memories, to free them from the pain of the past. It’s a sacred calling, but one that can be dangerously misused. Emmett comes to realise that there is something he has forgotten, something vital, and that the Bookbinder has hidden away a book with its name on it.
I cannot tell you any more about the plot without spoiling it, but this is a beautifully crafted novel of love and loss, magic and memory, hatred and hope – I loved it.