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The Herbalist

The Herbalist - Niamh Boyce 3.5 Stars

The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce

Set in the 1930s in a small town in Ireland The Herbalist is a simple and compelling story, excellently well crafted with subtle detail and exquisite prose that will keep you turning the pages of this beautifully written novel.

It is hard to believe that this is Niamh Boyce’s first novel as she really captures the mood of 1930s Ireland and I loved the contrast between the town and country girls and good and evil. I have read a lot of books set in Ireland around this time and I think Niamh Boyce has a unique ability to capture the reader’s attention with her storytelling.

The story centres on a small town where the usual gossip occurs between the shop keepers and the customers and where some of the town folk think the country folk are beneath them. A town where very little seems to happen until a mysterious exotic man appears out of nowhere and sets up his stall in the square, his appearance in the town livens things up with his lotions and potions and the ladies of the town from young to old become mesmerized by this visitor who they say can perform miracles.

I loved the cover of this novel as it just seems to draw you in and in itself tells a story of 1930s Ireland.

The characters are well drawn and each has her own story to tell. I loved that many of the female character were strong women who were easy to relate to. There seemed to be an absence of “catholic Ireland of the time” in the novel. Which I think would have dealt with the herbalist long before he made himself comfortable in the town and if not a parish priest would have chastised the women concerned from the alter.

I think this novel gives a great sense of social history of the time and I especially loved the reference to films showing at the local picture.

Our book club has chosen this as our January read and having read the book I think it will make an excellent book club read as there is plenty of discussion and much to admire about the author’s writing. This is one I am looking forward to group discussion.

A well written and enjoyable read and I for one will look forward to Niamh Boyce’s next novel.

Niamh was named the 2012 Hennessy XO New Irish Writer of the Year.



My thanks to Penguin Ireland for sending me this novel to review.