Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Herbalist - Niamh Boyce

The HerbalistThe Herbalist by Niamh Boyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'The Herbalist is the electrifying first novel from Niamh Boyce, winner of the 2012 Hennesssy XO Award for New Irish Writing. A beautiful and gripping story from 1930s rural Ireland, a time when women paid a terrible price for unmarried pregnancy, The Herbalist will appeal to fans of The Midwife's Daughter and The Outcast.

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.

However, Emily has competition for the herbalist's attentions. The women of the town - the women from the big houses and their maids, the shopkeepers and their serving girls, those of easy virtue and their pious sisters - all seem mesmerised by this visitor who, they say, can perform miracles.

But when Emily discovers the dark side of the man who has infatuated her all summer, once again her world turns upside down. She may be a dreamer, but she has a fierce sense of right and wrong. And with the herbalist's fate lying in her hands she must make the biggest decision of her young life. To make him pay for his sins against the women of the town? Or let him escape to cast his spell on another town?

The Herbalist is a riveting story about the shadow side of Irish life - the snobbery, the fear of sex, the tragedy of women destroyed by social convention and the bravery of those who defied it. It is an unforgettable story from a rare new talent.

In addition to winning the 2012 Hennessy New Writing Award, Niamh Boyce has been shortlisted for the 2011 Francis McManus Short Story competition, the 2010 Hennessy Literary Awards, the 2010 Molly Keane Award and the 2010 WOW Award.'

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 genre. This story however portrays this particular time beautifully and the story has been written very well.

During the book we learn about four different women. These four women narrate the story through separate chapters each. The way these voices were written seemed to change, some of the chapters were written in first person narratives and others were third, however they were all of equal importance to the story. I did find it a little difficult to follow, especially for the first part of the book.

I felt that this is a book that you need to be able to dedicate quite a bit of time to initially, in order to get your head round the narration and which character was which to begin with. Once you have settled into the book, it was a lot easier to follow and became for me more enjoyable.

Unfortunately this book didn’t do anything for me, I didn’t feel I connected to any of the characters and although reading about 1930’s Ireland was interesting; I don’t think I would have chosen this book to read. I think if you are interested in Ireland in the 1930’s or have a connection with the place you will enjoy the book. As I previously said this is very well written and a great debut book for this author, it just wasn’t my cup of tea in the plot.

I would like to thank the publishers for sending this in exchange for an honest review.

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