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The Herbalist

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  482 ratings  ·  77 reviews
The Herbalist is the electrifying first novel from Niamh Boyce, winner of the 2012 Hennesssy XO Award for New Irish Writing. It is a devastating and emotional story of yearning and obsession in 1930s rural Ireland.

Out of nowhere the herbalist appears and sets up his stall in the market square. Teenager Emily is spellbound by the exotic stranger - here is a man of the worl
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 6th 2013 by Penguin Ireland (first published January 1st 2013)
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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  482 ratings  ·  77 reviews

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Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub-reads
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 aro
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ireland, fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cora Tea Party Princess
A very easy four stars. Almost five.

This story starts slow and builds and builds and builds. It is fantastically written and the prose is so lyrical that it felt at times as though I were reading a poem. The writing itself grows and by the end you feel as though you're reading a different book entirely.

It is mysterious and shocking, with threads of romance woven through. The little town has just as much of a little mind, is judgemental and closed and old-fashioned even for the times. It's a pois
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
“You wouldn’t know it but it’s my story. You won’t find me in the column inches. You won’t find me in the newsprint. You’ll find me in the gaps, the commas, the full stops – the small dark spaces where one thing led to another.”

Although the quote above relates specifically to one of the characters in this book, it is an accurate description for the whole book. This story is told with as much eloquence through everything that isn’t spelled out as it is through the words on the pages.

This story te
Theresa Milstein
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The Herbalist is written in the point of view of 4 women. 2 are written in the first person and 2 are in the third person. I didn't find it jarring. It was divided by chapter and the voices were distinctive.

The fact that Niamh Boyce is also a poet who has won awards is clear when reading The Herbalist. As I read the book, I felt as if an impressionist painting was being revealed stroke by stroke. The three questions on the cover stayed in the back of my mind as I watched 3 women's lives unfold:
Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
I found it really difficult to get into this novel. The character development was rather weak, especially the development of character relationships. It's ok to have a weak character but not a weakly developed character. Emily's relationship with the Herbalist and his with her seems implausible. The characters just weren't developed enough to make it believable. Also, there were other aspects of the book that were just not developed enough. What happened with Rose could have been so compelling b ...more
Jul 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Firstly, this is a brilliantly written first novel by new Irish author from Kildare - Niamh Boyce. Inspired by a 1940's newspaper clipping about a herbalist arrested for crimes against young girls, Boyce deals with the hypocrisy and closed-mindedness of early twentieth century Ireland. Actually you could argue, that where the treatment of women is concerned, things haven't progressed as much as one would have hoped. One only has to read the UN's review of Ireland's compliance with the ICCPR wher ...more
Sheena Lambert
Oct 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Just to be clear: I loved this book.
But, being totally honest, I found the first chapter or two "unexciting". So much so, that I picked up another book to read instead. I did intend giving The Herbalist another go, and when my book club chose it as our book du jour, I was delighted to have a reason to pick it up again.
And I am SO glad I did.
It's a very different style of book to any I've read before. The author's voice reminds me a little of a female Donal Ryan (The Spinning Heart) and if you
Margaret Madden
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
What a fab book. This lady can really write !!
Highly recommended!!!!
see my full review below
Oct 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
Not sure what I feel about this. Loved the idea but not so much the execution of this story.
Jane Meagher
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
A bit of a slow burner but totally unputdownable for a finish
Stephanie Davies
May 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I won my copy of ‘The Herbalist’ through a Goodreads First Reads competition and was immediately struck by how much the cover looked like that of ‘Call the Midwife’. I don’t believe this choice was accidental. The texts share a common thread; both novels are historical fictions that pertain to women’s bodies, and both have a heavy religious presence.

‘The Herbalist’ is the story of a small group of women in 1930s Ireland. It details how the seemingly trivial appearance of a charming foreigner, wh
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, arc
The Herbalist is a riveting story taking place in 1930's Ireland. The Herbalist sets up shop in a small village bringing much more than herbs and cures.

The women of the small village are smitten by this charming attractive man with his promised potions, the men suspicious, little do they know this peddler is a predator and a murder. He does much more than cure or push elixirs he erases secrets.

Enthralling story of love, rape, incest, murder and loss, let's not omit courage. One brave young w
Nov 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Set in a small town in Ireland during the 1930s, The Herbalist is an evocative and beautifully written portrayal of life during that time.

The story is narrated in turn by four women; Emily, Carmel, Sarah and Aggie. Four very different women, who each speak with a very different voice, but who are all connected by the arrival of 'The Herbalist' to their market square.

The pace of the story is slow, and gentle, with each woman's tale explored in detail. The hidden secrets, the treatment of women a
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
I found this a very frustrating book, things were being alluded to all the time and then it finished at such a pace that you felt you were being pushed out the door while the last few pieces were falling into place and I found it absolutely unbelieveable that a book that was set in the 1930s in Ireland and was telling a story about this dark skinned man setting up shop and having loads of female visitors at all hours of the day and night and yet not one visit from a local priest!!!! It just didn ...more
Jun 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A facinating and revealing snapshot of life in 1930's Ireland and in particular a woman's lot in life. I suffered, raged and celebrated with the exceptionally well developed characters and cancelled all engagements in order to finish the book.

I received my copy via Goodreads giveaways.
Ella Rose Brunton
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The content of this novel is a tad bit disturbing. I was halfway through when I started to realise where this book was going. I thought the storytelling was powerful. I thought the characters were developed, the plot lines made sense, and the tension kept building. Niamh Boyce is an amazing writer.
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Truly amazing novel!! Very "Irish". First 60 or so pages dragged a bit, but last 100 pages were a whirlwind. You wont be dissapointed by this raw expression of "Irishness", from fallen women to hidden abortions to local gossip-mongers. References to abuse and Magdalen laundries, this novel is a gripping story, a riveting expression of our hidden history.
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Slow start but intensified quickly from mid of the book. The story was told with dark secrets....sinful nature of human. Emily was the only dim light in midst of darkness of human nature. Would let down the book in last few chapters as I was eager to know what happened to the characters inside.
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
Got a little lost with the story near the end, mot sure I grasped it all but A+ for the depiction of small-minded small-town Ireland!
Nov 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Lovely story. Enjoyed the chapters in different characters.
Frank Parker
Jul 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book has been praised lavishly by Irish writers and reviewers, a fact that might seem strange to outsiders since it deals honestly with a period in Irish history that some might think best forgotten.
Aside from the subject matter, there is indeed much to praise in Boyce's outstanding first novel. The use of language, the structure, in which four very different accounts of the events described are presented by four different female protagonists, cleverly interwoven so as to leave the reader u
Trish at Between My Lines
The Herbalist was an interesting, atmospheric read but it was a lot darker than I was expecting. From the lovely vintage feel cover, I was expecting a light hearted, warm read but that is not what this book is.

First Line of The Herbalist:

(to be added)

My Thoughts on The Herbalist:

I have mixed feelings on this one. I loved the 1930’s provincial Irish village setting; I feel it captured the feel of small town Ireland reasonably well. However I felt it was all a bit too mean. The characters aren’t n
Caoimhe Levins
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's such a great read. It's a very different read. I felt I was griped from page one. Without giving any spoilers everybody thinks "The Hearbalist is such a harmless creature, It's a book with a very different outcome than you expect.
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a fabulous book! When I was initially seeking out titles for my Irish Counties Challenge, this one immediately jumped out at me, both because of the synopsis and the beautiful cover. I'm delighted its lived up to my hopes for it. Short chapters alternate in viewpoints between several characters - mainly Carmel, Sarah, Emily and occasionally Aggie. Each girl or woman comes from a different background or place in society, and the day to day life of each becomes inextricably interwoven with th ...more
Liz Barnsley
Oct 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
When the herbalist appears out of nowhere and sets out his stall in the market square he brings excitement to Emily’s dull midlands town. The teenager is enchanted – the glamorous visitor can be a Clark Gable to her Jean Harlow, a Fred to her Ginger, a man to make her forget her lowly status in this place where respectability is everything.

Winner of the 2012 Hennesssy XO Award for New Irish Writing.

The Herbalist is set in 1930′s rural Ireland and focusses very much on the lives of Women in that
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a powerful look at life in a typical Irish village of the 1930s. The story is told primarily from the points of view of four very different female characters, which alternate in brief snippets of narrative. The net effect is at first choppy and slow, but over the course of the novel the drama and the narrative effect builds to a most effective crescendo. The story centers around the relationship between the title character, a rakish and suspicious but charismatic fellow who comes out of ...more
Kathryn Laceby
Feb 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Originally reviewed at Novel Escapes

I read The Herbalist and then was asked if I liked it? I can’t honestly say I liked it, no. It was well written and the plot lines were brought together and Boyce created a good build up, the main characters were defined and the story was logical and interesting. But there wasn’t much in the novel I liked. The lives of the people in The Herbalist were full of so much despair that I was in a constant state of anxiety reading it. I wanted to pluck them out of th
Jul 19, 2014 rated it liked it
The Herbalist is a book that was sent to me unsolicited; sometimes it’s nice to receive a surprise in the post, however other times I feel it can be tricky as it may not be a genre I necessary like to read. So when this happens I try to be fair about the book and talk more generally about it.

This is a story set in a rural town in Ireland during one hot summer in the 1930’s. Historical fiction is not normally a love of mine as I find it difficult to connect with and have little interest in this
Cheryl M-M
Jun 12, 2013 rated it liked it
It was a bit of a slow starter that ended up picking up pace towards the last quarter.
From a pure plot point of view this a good story. There were a few points I would query though.
Ireland in the 30s would have without a doubt had a Catholic priest running the show in the villages. Nothing happened without the sidekick of God finding out and he would have certainly been aware of the village females parading in and out of the house/hut of a dark skinned medicine man.
That is just a small irrelevan
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Niamh Boyce was the 2012 Hennessy XO New Irish Writer of the Year, her debut novel The Herbalist won Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2013, and was long listed for an IMPAC Award. Her short stories have been anthologized in The Long Gaze Back and The Hennessy Anthology.
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“Sarah...loved the way the light lit the silence first thing in the morning.” 0 likes
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