Niamh Boyce writes poetry and short stories, she won the Hennessey XO New Writers Award 2012 and has been shortlisted in the Francis McManus and Molly Keane awards among others. The Herbalist is her debut novel. The novel tells the story of four women in Ireland in the 1930s; Emily, Sarah, Carmel and Aggie whose lives are changed by the arrival in their small midlands town of an exotic herbalist. The women are all spellbound and excited to try out the herbalist's lotions and potions.
Carmel is recovering from the loss of her baby and hopes that the herbalist's tonics will give her back her lust for life and help her have another baby. Sarah is a clever young woman forced to become a shop assistant and desperate to escape the town before her secret is discovered. Aggie is the town prostitute, living alone on the edge of town drinking herself to death and making predictions for women's futures. Emily is a young girl who falls for the charms of the exotic stranger only to discover that he has a darker side.
This is a wonderfully written exploration of women's lives in a time of narrow choices. Richly peopled with believable characters and beautifully constructed. The interweaving stories sit perfectly together and the pace never flags. While rural mid century Ireland is not new territory for writers Niamh Boyce approaches it with a fresh eye and her interest in women's lives and women's history shines through.
The Herbalist is published by Penguin Ireland and is available now in Trade Paperback.
Thank you to Cliona Lewis at Penguin Ireland for sending me an early reading copy.