The Herbalist: Review

The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce

This debut novel by Niamh Boyce is set in a market town in Ireland in the 30s. It’s also the town where I grew up, so the book holds a special fascination for me.

An exotic stranger sets up in the market and calls himself a herbalist. The women of the town flock to buy his potions, tinctures and creams. But he also brings trouble. The story is told through the eyes of Emily, Sarah, Carmel and Aggie, who all come from different backgrounds. As their stories unfold, we realise the importance of wealth and standing and how few choices women had in those days.

Lured into the tale by stories of love and lust and loss, we don’t realise until half way through that this story has a dark underbelly. The lives of the characters are interesting, the manner in which they unfold, captivating. But what lingers long after I’ve put the book down is the dark reality of life for those women. The herbalist plays only one part in the unspoken horrors of the times.

I’ve followed Niamh’s journey to publication from the Novel Fair at the Irish Writers’ Centre, through updates on her blog  and finally to getting my hands on a signed copy. I feel incredibly proud and I don’t even know her.

Overall an enjoyable and powerful read. I’m already looking forward to Niamh’s next offering.

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