Out of nowhere the herbalist appears and sets out his stall in the market square. In this dull midlands town the exotic stranger brings glamour and excitement. The townspeople call him The Don and with his potions and lotions he seems to have a cure for all that ails them.
Teenager Emily is enchanted. In the herbalist she sees 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.
But 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 who oblige the town's men sexually and their pious sisters who turn a blind eye - all seem mesmerised by this visitor who can perform miracles. Rumours swirl and the herbalist thrives.
Emily may be ignorant and full of foolish dreams, but she has a fierce sense of right and wrong. And by the end of that summer she has discovered the dark side of the herbalist. But how big a sacrifice is she prepared to make to force him to pay for his sins against the women of the town?
The Herbalist is a deeply moving and viscerally powerful novel about the lives of women in 1930s Ireland. It is a dazzling and unforgettable story of love, shame, hypocrisy and courage.