I thoroughly enjoyed The Herbalist. It had been sitting on my Kindle for several months. I had read a few pages but wasn’t in the right mood or couldn’t get into it at first.
Then one day I began reading it again and soon became totally immersed in the setting and the story.
I can clearly imagine how an exotic character like the Herbalist would have repelled and attracted the locals in a small town in Ireland, or anywhere for that matter, a mere few decades ago. That’s the part that seemed incongruous to me i.e. the fact that a man like him would have chosen to live in a midlands town in Ireland back in the 1930’s.
When a book really interests me I want to find out as much as I can about the spark that ignited the idea for the story. I discovered that the author had found a small newspaper cutting while working on the archives of a local library (if my memory serves me correctly). The cutting reported on the trial of a man with an exotic sounding name who was accused of duping the locals with his treatments and herbal potions, or something to that effect.
Fiction is fiction and if you want to immerse yourself into a story and enjoy it without every detail having to be perfectly authentic, this might be the book for you. I know Irish life, I grew up there and I was able to roll with the story. Human nature being what it is, people gossip and people tend to go with the crowd. You’re either loved by many, tolerated or shunned. Boredom and lack of stimulation can make people behave strangely. Even in the sixties, Ireland was a country run by clerics; women were repressed and had little freedom, and this is all brought home in this dark but entertaining story.
My favourite character was Aggie, although I don’t seriously think a character like her would have been tolerated in any small town in Ireland, and she certainly wouldn’t have been having parties on her houseboat. Forgive me if I’m wrong on that score. Never mind, we can suspend belief and just enjoy the ride.
Yes, the author did use her unique style, switching characters and point of view and zooming in and out of scenes. But I genuinely loved her language, her creativity and her humour at times. I’ve marked a few examples here:
It reminded her of when the thread ended on the spool and the needle ran on regardless, puncturing seed holes of light.
I was growing myself some women’s intuition.
There was a lot wrong with her face: a wide mouth, a chin an inch too long, flared nostrils. And yet … she was perfectly lovely.
Grettie would have had Mass said for a splinter in her finger.
I struggled into the fur – it was soft as sin.
Ned had a dusty old job sweeping the roads but was always neat as a pin.
Rose was lying on the ground for anyone to see, all lonely under the moon.
Was I to live like a shunned sow, like the Carver sisters in their flour-bag dresses…
…it was a low-class thing. Low-class things are so exciting. Low class, my arse…
Okay, that’s enough. You get the picture. I’m very glad I returned to this book. It was a marvellous read. Dark yes, but amusing too. I look forward to reading more from this author.