| 4.2°C Dublin

Guinness Girls' glitz is the perfect glorious escape

Historical Fiction: The Glorious Guinness Girls

Emily Hourican

Hachette €13.99


Maureen Guinness. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Maureen Guinness. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The Glorious Guinness Girls

The Glorious Guinness Girls


Maureen Guinness. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Emily Hourican's The Glorious Guinness Girls has already been compared, and rightly so, to Downton Abbey. The two share a delicious comfort-blanket quality, only in the book's case, you do not need to wait until Sunday evenings before availing of its escapist properties.

In her fourth novel, Hourican tells the story of the three Guinness daughters Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh, in a narrative that stretches from 1918 to 1930. It encompasses the Civil War, the War of Independence, the glamour of the Roaring Twenties, and the brutality of the 1929 stock market crash. The story combines the intimacy of a family drama, set against the most opulent of backdrops, with sweeping historical themes.

Events are told through the eyes of Fliss, a sort of Nick Carraway figure. A fictional character, she is a poor cousin who comes to live with the girls as a companion: half confidante, half servant.

It's obvious huge research has gone into this work, but Hourican wears the results of her efforts lightly. She creates a rich, engaging stage set on which to place her characters. The Guinness family's properties in Ireland and in London are vividly described; the girls' wardrobes, the hi-jinks with friends and extravagant parties, the sheer luxury of the family's existence, all make for an engaging read.

In other hands, centring a book around the characters of the Guinness girls, given that behind the glamour, they were gilded creatures with essentially shallow natures, could have risked becoming boring. But Hourican brings an emotional depth to what she does, which is applied here to tease out the social dynamics of the upper classes, the limited scope of even the most affluent women's lives during that period, what it was to be a dependent woman, burgeoning feminism and the social upheaval of the time.

The tragic fragility of so many of the Guinness Girls' set - seen in the classic novels set in this period, such as The Great Gatsy and Brideshead Revisited - that ability to burn bright, but burn fast, is perfectly captured here.

The restless, unfulfilled, self-destructive nature of Maureen Guinness in particular, more intelligent than Daisy Buchanan in Gatsby, less tortured than Julia Flyte in Brideshead, sets her up as one of the great, fascinating heroines of the literature of Bright Young Things.

If ever there was a book for Covid times, this is it. The Glorious Guinness Girls is, in the best possible sense, an easy read. You'll find yourself turning the pages to forget, if only for an hour or so, our current grim reality. If you've been struggling for months to get beyond the opening pages of a book, try this one.

Video of the Day

Most Watched