Thursday, 29 June 2017
#TheBindingSong #ElodieHarper #Review
Way back in January, SJI Holliday highly recommended this book and I have been eagerly anticipating it ever since. I have been desperate to read it and then, when it eventually did fall into my lap, I was almost too scared to turn the page and start reading it.......although not as scared as I was once I actually had turned the page and started reading it!
Oh my goodness, what a book. I loved it. This is totally my favourite kind of novel and totally worth the wait. SJI Holliday was not wrong. It is going to be one of my highlights of 2017.
So why did I like it so much? It's set in Norfolk for a start. That's not only my favourite place in the world but also a perfect location for a novel that has a bleak, gothic atmosphere about it. And it's about a new female psychologist working in a prison. A prison in a very remote area full of incredibly unpleasant inmates and staff that are equally hostile. Oh, and there has been a string of suicides amongst the inmates recently as well......
Dr Janet Palmer wants to find out what secrets are hiding in the prison walls and what darkness is haunting the corridors to make the men take their own lives. But the deeper she digs, the more uncertain she becomes about what she is dealing with, what she is awakening and whether there is something much more sinister and evil at play.
Harper has created a compelling premise, location and cast of characters. Even from the blurb, it is clear this is a novel bursting with tension, suspense, threat and something very very dark.
By the end of the second paragraph of the first page, I was already fully transported to the woods in which the opening scene is set. I had completely fallen alongside the stride of the character as he stumbled through the trees in the wet weather and I could feel the tension prickling at my skin before I had even got to the bottom of the page. Immediately I was reminded of the opening of Great Expectations and filled with the same sense of trepidation that I felt watching the black and white film. I was already in love with Harper's writing.
I make notes when I'm reading - not just to help with my reviews but just because I love language, words and good writing. At the end of the prologue, I have simply annotated it with OMG.
Some of my favourite novels are The Woman in Black, Little Stranger and anything eerie, suggestive, and unnerving that will haunt me and make me too scared to get up in the night without flicking every single light in the house on. The Binding Song is like a perfect amalgamation of all of this. It's got echoes of some of the books I love and employs some great techniques with impressive effect. It's a blend of atmospheric description, allusions to the supernatural, ghostly hauntings and characters who are either master manipulators or preying on the vulnerable, using a mixture of confusion, mind games, reality and delusion to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. I already know I will reread it and pause a little longer over some of the sentences that literally punch the breath out of you.
As well as incredibly gripping prose, this novel is also thought provoking. It raises lots of questions about mental health, psychosis and drugs. It also explores issues such as the possibility or belief in rehabilitation, the relationship between religion and evil, grief, reality, perception and delusion. The characters are very well crafted and the main protagonists, Janet is a really intriguing character. She appears strong, she appears driven in her professional life yet actually, she is fragile and deeply traumatised. Her reliability, objectivity and point of view is often flawed or ambiguous so the reader develops an interesting relationship with her as more and more about her character is revealed as the novel progresses.
The men in the prison are deeply unpleasant. They are manipulative, unnerving yet balanced and calm all at the same time. It's an ambitious novel but for me, one that captured my imagination, attention and still haunts me now.
I enjoyed the way the author used mirrors and reflections in a metaphorical way as well as a very straightforward way to create tension and add another layer to the plot. There is a satisfying play on the concept of twins, seeing true self and the question of perception and reality.
I don't know anything about working in prisons or with prisoners but I thought that placing Janet in this setting worked well because she puts herself in a situation that is only going to compound and complicate her fears, anxieties and search for closure and resolution. It also makes the novel quite intense and claustrophobic - despite the bleak, isolated countryside that surrounds the building.
I found this an exciting, dramatic, scary and compelling read. I loved the ending.
Thanks so much to Susi Holliday for recommending it and also to Janet Emson. And, Ms Holliday, not only will I now be looking out for any more of your recommendations, I will also be following your advice ....... I will not be looking in any mirrors any time soon.
The Binding Song is published by Mulholland Books on 29th June 2017.
I think this book would make a good book group read so here's a few questions to help get you started if you decide to pick it one month!
Bibliomaniac's Book Club: Questions on The Binding Song
How important is the setting in this novel?
"It's just remembering some men want to reform and need support but others are extremely dangerous and would like nothing more than the opportunity to mess with your head." (Janet) How did you respond or relate to the male prisoners in the book?
"It's not good for you," says Janet's boyfriend about her job in the prison service. Do you agree with him? Is Janet too damaged herself to be helping the prisoners or is she still effective in a professional capacity?
What is Janet's attitude towards the prisoners she works with? How did you feel about her thoughts and comments about the prisoners?
The author uses flashbacks written in italics throughout the novel. Did you think this was effective? How did these sections enhance your understanding of the characters?
How did you respond to Steven? Why do you think the author decided to make his a chaplin?
"Revenge leaves a sense of emptiness." What does the book say about revenge and retribution?
"What is it that you want Janet Palmer?" Michael asks Janet. What does she want? Does this change at any point in the novel? Does she get what she wants?
Did you feel this was an authentic, realistic, believable representation of prisoners, prison workers and the prison service?
What did you think about the ending?
For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat, you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk