The Bookbinder of Jericho

The Bookbinder of Jericho


'Your job is to bind the books, not read them.'

When the men of Oxford University Press leave for the Western Front, Peggy, her twin sister Maude and their friends in the bookbindery must shoulder the burden at home. As Peggy moves between her narrowboat full of memories and the demands of the Press, her dreams of studying feel ever more remote. She must know her place, fold her pages and never stop to savour the precious words in front of her.

From volunteer nurses to refugees fleeing the horrors of occupation, the war brings women together from all walks of life, and with them some difficult choices for Peggy. New friends and lovers offer new opportunities, but they also make new demands - and Peggy must write her own story.

Our Review

"Read the books, not bloody bind them." 

The Bookbinder of Jericho is like the literary equivalent of a warm hug. Despite some of the themes contained within it left me feeling warm and cosy. Fans of Pip Williams previous work Lost Words will love this companion novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words.  

Peg is a bookbinder living in Oxford with her sister Maude. Peg works as a bindery girl in a press opposite the prestigious Sommerville College, and she longs to pass through it's gates to study but her social class and personal circumstances hold her back. She has to content her with scraps of books that are unable to be used in the press because of some flaw. Peg takes them back to her boat Calliope, just like her deceased mother did before her. 

"Scraps. That's all I got. Fragments that made no sense without the words before or the words after."

I loved Peg, she was such a simple but very real character. I felt every emotion with her; every hope, disappointment and frustration. One of her biggest frustrations is the duty she feels towards her twin sister Maude. 

"She wasn't simple despite what people thought." 

Peg is incredibly attentive towards her sister and acts more like a mother. Left unnattended Maude will fold the pages of the bindery books in beautiful shapes and patterns. She is unable to cook for herself. The Maude we meet is vulnerable and though Peg loves her she can't help but resent her duty. Peg struggles with her identity with and without Maude. 

"Dear Maude. I love you, I really do. But sometimes...This is how my mind ran." 

Peg feels lost in her role as a sister, defined only by that and unseen for who she really is. One of the few who sees her as an individual is her mother's friend Tilda. Tilda is an active campaigner for women's rights and has her own entry in the dictionary of lost words: Sisters.

"It's a word of conveniance that made me disappear, but when Tilda uses it at those meetings it felt deliberate and strong. It felt subversive and I wanted to be one of those sisters." 

The Bookbinder of Jericho covers the timespan from the start to the end of the first world war and greatly illustrates the change of attitudes of the public from national pride in the soldiers to anger and sadness at the realities of war. un

During the war the bindery employed some of the Belgian refugees to assist them. The women arrived traumatised by the things they had seen and unable to contemplate the situation they found themselves in. One of them, Lotte, takes a shining to Maude and things slowly begin to change for the twins. 

"I watched her watching my sister and wondered at the look on her face. A mixture of sorrow and longing. "

Most people find conversations with Maude frustrating or confusing but Lotte seems to gel with her immediately. 

As the book progresses Peg allows herself to imagine a life where she doesn't need to monitor Maude every second of the day, a day where she is defined by her own worth rather than her role as a sibling.

"I want to write the books, Bastiaan. I want my ideas to be printed, I want my experience to count. I want to share something." 

The Bookbinder of Jericho focuses on the women's role during the war. the largely unacknowledged role they played both at home and abroad. 

The Bookbinder of Jericho is a book I won't soon forget.


Our Final Rating...

Our Rating

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