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The Guinness Girls: A Hint of Scandal by Emily Hourican

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

The Guinness Girls: A Hint of Scandal by Emily Hourican published with Hachette Ireland.  Inspired by true-life events, it is described as ‘a sweeping, epic novel of Ireland and Britain in the grip of change, and a story of how three women who wanted for nothing were about to learn that they couldn’t have everything.’

When Emily Hourican published her previous novel, The Glorious Guinness Girls, I described it as ‘a must for all Downton Abbey fans, a gorgeous book, a captivating tale about a young girl caught up in the lifestyle of a family that continues to fascinate – the Guinness Family. A joy to read.’ In her latest novel, Emily Hourican returns with another fascinating insight into the world of this extraordinary family. Now older and, either married or on the cusp of marriage, the hedonistic days of their lives as part of the circle known as The Bright Young People are behind them. Even though still friends with Baby and Zita Jungman, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Stephen Tennant, Evelyn Waugh and many more familiar and famous names of that era, the decadent and carefree lifestyle of the 1920s is fast fading. Society senses a shift, with the general population no longer in awe of the lifestyle of these wealthy youngsters.

Aileen, the eldest of the three sisters, married Brinsley (Brinny) Sheridan Bushe Plunket and moved from London to Luttrellstown Castle in Dublin. Aileen and Brinny had a bizarre relationship. Like chalk and cheese theirs was a relationship destined for difficulty. Aileen was a very elegant individual who loved the chatter, the fabulous parties, the sparkle of nights out and glittering conversations. She dressed in the best that Paris had to offer, living a very aristocratic lifestyle but Brinny was passionate about horses and country living. Aileen was constantly at odds with Brinny, irritated by his presence which encouraged her to entertain more, travel back to London and re-immerse herself in the life she had before marriage.

Maureen, the middle sister, married Basil (Duff) Blackwood, 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava. His family residence was in Co. Down, at the crumbling estate of Clandeboye. Maureen was slow to leave the carefree and partying lifestyle of the 1920s behind her and saw her future in Clandeboye as a distant plan but when her father-in-law died, her world shifted. She had to leave London for the bleak and cold Clandeboye where her mother-in-law, Lady Brenda, roamed the corridors in a state of mental agitation and frailty. Maureen and Duff had a stormy marriage fuelled by heightened arguments followed by passionate reunions. Maureen deliberately taunted Duff and, as time passed, her behaviour worsened. Duff seemed unable to refuse her, although her attitude toward him was selfish, cruel and ofttimes very insulting. Maureen escaped to London frequently but she also brought her entourage to Clandeboye. Duff would have his old college buddies there at the same time and inevitably clashes unfurled. The decadence of London jarred with country life at Clandeboye.

Oonagh, the youngest sister, married Philip Kindersley. Oonagh was a more gentle and romantic creature than her two older sisters. She always felt very strongly that she would not be like her own mother, Cloé, a woman who exhibited very little affection toward her children. Oonagh dreamed of a big family with lots of children and a home radiating with joy and love. Considered an oddity by many for her modern attitude to parenting, Oonagh, like her sisters, was to witness disappointment in her marriage as the cards eventually came crashing down.As the three sisters’ tumultuous lives continued unabated, a movement was growing among the populace. No longer satisfied with low wages and struggling to stay afloat, there was a cry among workers for better pay, better work practices and an overall better standard of living. Many men had fought for their country in the First World War and now years later felt unjustly treated. It was a time for change.

Europe was in strife with fascism and communism both gathering momentum among local populations. Spain was on the cusp of a civil war and the British politician, Oswald Mosley, was slowly being listened to. No longer content with the state of British politics, Mosley established the British Union of Fascists (BUF), gaining the ear of many of the social circle that the Guinness sisters revolved around, including the infamous and celebrated Mitford sisters.

Not all individuals in this story are real and Emily Hourican introduces us to Kathleen, a fictional character, who accompanies the sisters through these years of their lives. Kathleen is in a unique position, as she straddles the world of the ordinary person and the rich. She is exposed to many scenes of grief and turmoil. She understands Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh. While she may not agree with their decisions, she is aware of the inconsistencies in their lives and the tough years of their childhood, reared by nannies and strangers. Kathleen provides a wonderful window into both worlds and provides the reader with a very informative view of life for many during those turbulent years.

The Guinness Girls: A Hint of Scandal is a fictional novel founded on fact. Weaving a fascinating narrative around a changing world, Emily Hourican completely immerses her readers in this incredible tale. Britain took a decision to follow a policy of appeasement in the 1930s which, as we all know, failed but at the time there was clearly unrest among the working classes with massive unemployment, hunger marches and general dissatisfaction across society as a whole. The Guinness sisters lived in a bubble for much of this time, living unawares of the ensuing chaos that was about to engulf the world. Their sheltered existence was very much in contradiction to the lives of most and it is just incredible to read about their lack of interest and their general attitude toward the state of the nation, almost in denial of the inevitable.

The Guinness Girls: A Hint of Scandal is another completely addictive and truly splendid read from Emily Hourican. It can easily be read as standalone, but if you do wish to learn more about these intriguing sisters, I would very much recommend that you pick up a copy of The Glorious Guinness Girls also. An enthralling tale that will dazzle and delight every reader, The Guinness Girls: A Hint of Scandal is an engrossing and sumptuous novel. If you loved the drama of The Crown, then you will adore The Guinness Girls: A Hint of Scandal with its lavish descriptions and its glorious insight into this truly fascinating family.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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