What I read: The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams

This a captivating historical novel that explores the themes of knowledge, love, war, and sisterhood. It is a companion book to the author’s previous bestseller, The Dictionary of Lost Words, but it can also be read as a standalone book.

To set the scene:

“It is 1914, and as the war draws the young men of Britain away to fight, women must keep the nation running. Two of those women are Peggy and Maude, twin sisters who live on a narrow boat in Oxford and work in the bindery at the university press.”

Peggy is a curious and ambitious young woman who longs to study at the university and access the books she binds, but is constrained by her gender and social class. Maude is a gentle and loyal sister who is content with her simple life on the narrow boat they share. Their world is turned upside down by the outbreak of World War I, which brings refugees, illness, and change to their town of Jericho.

Williams skillfully weaves historical facts and details into her fictional narrative, creating a vivid and authentic picture of the era. She also portrays the challenges and opportunities that women faced during the war, as they stepped into new roles and fought for their rights. The book is rich with references to literature, language, and printing, which will delight book lovers and history buffs alike. The author also explores the power and limitations of knowledge, and the importance of preserving and sharing it.

“When we bound these books, I thought, they were identical. But I realised they couldn’t stay that way. As soon as someone cracks the spine, a book develops a character all its own. What impresses or concerns one reader is never the same as what impresses or concerns all others. So, each book, once read, will fall open at a different place. Each book, once read, I realised, will have told a slightly different story.”

The relationship between the sisters is especially touching and realistic, as they support and clash with each other. The book is also beautifully written, with lyrical prose and evocative descriptions.

“She understood, I think, that most of what people said was meaningless. That people spoke to fill the silence or pass the time; that, despite our mastery of words and our ability to put them together in infinitely varied ways, most of us struggled to say what we really meant. Maude filtered conversation like a prism filters light. She broke it down so that each phrase could be understood as an articulation of something singular.”

Williams has crafted a memorable and inspiring story that celebrates the love of books and the resilience of the human spirit.

With thanks to Penguin Random House SA for the opportunity to read this book. 

Read an extract here:  https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za/penguinbooksblog/extract-bookbinder-jericho-pip-williams

About this book:


ISBN 9781784745196

Format Trade Paperback

Recommended Price R360.00

Published July 2023

About the author:

Pip Williams was born in London, grew up in Sydney, and now lives in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Her debut novel,  The Dictionary of Lost Words,  was a New York Times bestseller and a Reese’s Book Club pick.  The Bookbinder of Jericho  is her second novel. (info from PRHSA)

Have a look at this video, I throughly enjoyed it!