This book can be found here.
“Memories,’ she said, at last. ‘Not people, Emmett. We take memories and bind them. Whatever people can’t bear to remember. Whatever they can’t live with. We take those memories and put them where they can’t do any harm. That’s all books are.”
This book is set in maybe an 19th - early 20th Century-style lifestyle (don’t ask me specifically which one, I still might be wrong with that broad a guess). So, there is no technology, but there is a sense of industrialisation in parts. A concept of progress, whilst Collins, like Dickens, shows the limitations to the idea of progress. But this setting also, besides the gloominess of the future of people, also helps understand why the characters themselves might be more desperate, more closed, more … lacking hope as well.
I think the setting is solid (though not close to Dickens at all), though the realism comes more from the characters and their responses to situations and ideas. Whilst the characters aren’t completely lost in their hopelessness or so desperate as to be pathetic (in some cases, not all), there is a realism that helps you see how hard it would be to live in this society. And this is where the plot comes in.
Emmett Farmer (yes, his last name reflects his and his family’s occupation) is an ill, weak boy who after a nasty turn is given to a book binder Seredith, to learn the trade and hopefully recover. ‘Book binding’ I hear you say? Yeah, this is where the fantastical element of the plot fits in. Binding is taking memories that are unwanted by someone (they must agree to the binding) and turning those memories into a book that should be stored and secured, unless the living person wants to remember again at some point. I could say a lot more about the binding process, but it might spoil the novel. The main part being the fact that one of the Binder’s customers, Lucian Darnay seems linked to Emmett in some way … dum dum dah.
This, for the first part of the novel is not completely understood and adds mystery to the novel. However, the second part (it is divided into three), explains it all, and the third therefore reveals the conclusion of the consequences of such bindings. So, whilst the core of the novel seems to move around traditions and memory, there is also love (biggest spoiler of the novel, unless you can pick it early on once you start reading).
The thing is I think the plot moves slowly. It takes a long time to build up, and in a sense never really does ultimately climax. It also ends too openly, and almost too positively, for the period this world and characters live in. Probably not bad for a reader, but it removes the realism slightly.
The characters are well built. They are realistic; more so than the plot. They aren’t just “nice” or “good” or “kind”. The characters are completely flawed in multiple ways and … dark. They can just be downright awful. This is not just main characters, but secondary ones as well. You will have no real hope in humanity from this book (again possibly like some of Dickens’ characters); even if you think the end is uplifting. And whilst I think this is what Collins has done to balance the novel in a world where there are such things as forbidden love, it could be hard to read for some.
And where does that leave me? In a bind … ha ha. I really enjoy realistic novels, where there is a lot of grit and darkness. The characters were real enough for me; which was positive. However, the book is slow; so, it will take a while for any reader to get into. The fantastical elements of binding were also very solid and unique. However, if you don’t like characters being overly secretive, dark or gritty, don’t bother. Just look at the pretty cover.
Links for you:
Title read-a-likes in the library:
Alix E. Harrow
Harrow was chosen for its 19th and early 20th Century’s focus, and the lyrical way Harrow writes. The story also focusses on young protagonists seeking answers to their pasts through magical libraries (of sorts).
Title read-a-likes in cloudLibrary:
Morgenstern was chosen because of the multiple perspectives telling the story which features LGBTQIA diverse characters. There is also a connection to the theme of “books about books”.