The Other Guinness Girl: A Question of Honor by Emily Hourican

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction
The Other Guinness Girl by Emily Hourican

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Over the years of their marriage she had learned that really, what he meant was politics where he was at the centre, change that brought something glittering to him. How long it had taken her to understand.’

The Other Guinness Girl: A Question of Honor by Emily Hourican is published with Hachette Ireland. It is described as ‘a dazzling new novel charting the lives of one of Ireland’s most fascinating families’. I have read and loved the previous two books in this series, The Glorious Guinness Girls and The Guinness Girls: A Hint of Scandal so I was delighted with the opportunity to delve deeper into the lives of this most intriguing family.

The Other Guinness Girl: A Question of Honor shifts from Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh Guinness and introduces us to Lady Honor Guinness. Born into a family of great wealth, Honor struggled socially. She was always very much aware of her inadequacies compared to the glamour and glitz of her three cousins. Idle gossip wasn’t her forte and she endured, as opposed to enjoyed, any social events. She lacked confidence in conversing and stayed in the background where possible. Honor was a practical girl assisting her mother, Lady Iveagh, in charitable works when the need arose. She had a positive relationship with her mother and was never forced into making that perfect match. She was considered plain and had accepted that she would never draw attention entering a room yet was also hopeful.

The one constant in her life was her closest friend Doris. Doris had one objective and that was to find a husband of stature. She was looking for a man who would provide her with the security she craved. Doris was beautiful, alluring and attracted many suitors but none that considered her marriage material. In a society which focused very much on titles and family name, she struggled to find a suitable partner.

Doris was very secretive about her family. Her mother was German-Jewish and, as the 1930s rolled on, Doris became more attuned to the nasty comments in certain quarters. Doris and Honor plotted together and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. Honor was very low-key, almost oblivious to the wealth of her family, making her a great friend for Doris.

An unexpected gathering brought Honor into contact with Sir Henry “Chips” Channon. Chips Channon was an American social climber whose attention was very much turned, at all times, toward the British aristocracy. He had many acquaintances among the Café Society scene of the time, spending his days shopping and gathering tittle tattle. He used this gossip to propel himself further into the circle of the top tier of society. He courted Honor, possibly seeing an opportunity of a brighter future for himself. Her wealth was known. Her lack of relationships was known. She was ripe picking. From the outset, Doris knew something was amiss with Chips

“The first time she met Chips, Doris recognised in him the very same watchfulness she knew in herself. No matter where he was, or what he did, no matter how absorbed he seemed in conversation, diner, dancing, he was always – as she was – intensely aware of what went on around him. Who came and went, how they were greeted, what they wore and who they spoke to. And she thought, he was easily as clever at it as she was. More.”

Chips asked for Honor’s hand and, in speedy fashion, they married. Life wasn’t quite as joyous as Honor had hoped and imagined it would be. She soon found Chips’ insatiable need to be on the cusp of everything and attending every social event exhausting. Chips had ambition and was prepared to do anything to get where he wanted.

Through all these years society was going through huge changes. Honor was somewhat removed from it all, not reading the papers and living a rather subdued life. Her husband, Chips, always needed to be in the centre of the highest echelons of society and did manage to develop a close relationship with the then Prince of Wales, Edward, and Mrs Wallis Simpson. He courted Edward, soaking up his words and generally found an ally regarding their views on fascism and Nazi Germany. Chips had big plans for his future, but all were dashed when Edward abdicated.

Emily Hourican yet again carries the reader back in time with opulent descriptions and cinematic portrayals. It is impossible not to go online and research more about these enigmatic individuals whose lives continue to captivate and intrigue.

During the 1930s Europe was in flux and society was changing. With another war on the horizon, the populace was restless. Following the abdication of Edward, the attitude of Chips and his friends was considered vulgar and dangerous. This meant that Chips had to rethink his position. Through his life Chips Channon kept diaries that later were published and caused quite a sensation. The contents revealed lots of colourful and salacious details about various renowned socialites from those years.

The Other Guinness Girl by Emily HouricanThe Other Guinness Girl: A Question of Honor is another splendid and highly enjoyable read from Emily Hourican. Using a mix of fact and fiction, it captures the essence of the 1930s and is immersive in its descriptions. All the individual characters are very much brought to life, encouraging readers to further explore the history of this extraordinary family. I know I’ve said it before for the previous two books, but I’ll say it again, The Other Guinness Girl: A Question of Honor is perfect reading for all who enjoyed Downton Abbey and The Crown. It is a truly enchanting read.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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