Book Review: The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican (2020)

Emily Hourican’s novel, The Glorious Guinness Girls, is a historical fiction piece that tells the story of the five Guinness sisters and their lives during the early 20th century in Ireland. The novel is an engaging and thought-provoking read, offering a glimpse into the fascinating lives of these remarkable women and the challenges they faced in a society that had very rigid expectations for women.

The story begins in the 1890s with the birth of the youngest sister, Oonagh, and follows the sisters as they navigate their way through the changing times in Ireland. The five sisters are named Aileen, Maureen, Oonagh, Aiofe, and Olivia, and they come from an incredibly wealthy and influential family. Their father, Edward Guinness, is a member of the famous brewing dynasty, and their mother, Adelaide Guinness, is a socialite who is determined to secure advantageous marriages for her daughters.

The novel is divided into three parts, each covering a different time period in the sisters’ lives. In the first part, the sisters are young girls growing up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are educated by governesses, attend balls and other social events, and are expected to marry well. However, each sister has her own unique personality and desires that do not necessarily align with the expectations of their parents and society.

In the second part, the sisters are young women coming of age during World War I. They face new challenges as the world around them changes, and their brother Ernest goes off to fight in the war. Aileen becomes involved in the suffragette movement and falls in love with an Irish nationalist, while Maureen finds herself drawn to a married man. Oonagh, the youngest sister, struggles to find her place in the world and rebels against her family’s expectations.

In the final part of the novel, the sisters are middle-aged and must confront the challenges of the Irish War of Independence and the changing political landscape in Ireland. Aileen, who has become a prominent political figure, must navigate her way through the male-dominated political arena while also dealing with personal tragedies. Maureen must come to terms with the choices she has made in her life, and Oonagh finds love and purpose in unexpected ways.

One of the strengths of this novel is Hourican’s ability to create fully-realized characters that are complex and multifaceted. Each sister is given a distinct personality and voice, and the reader is able to fully understand their motivations and desires. The relationships between the sisters are also well-developed, and the bond they share despite their differences is a central theme of the novel.

Another strength of the novel is its historical accuracy. Hourican clearly did her research, and the book is full of rich details that bring the time period to life. From the suffragette movement to the Irish War of Independence, Hourican expertly weaves historical events into the narrative, giving the reader a real sense of the world that the sisters lived in.

However, one of the weaknesses of the novel is the pacing. While the first part of the novel moves quickly and covers a lot of ground, the second and third parts drag on at times, and there are moments when the story feels like it is meandering. Additionally, there are some plot points that are introduced but never fully resolved, leaving the reader with unanswered questions.

The Glorious Guinness Girls is a well-written and engaging historical fiction novel that offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of a remarkable family during a pivotal time in Irish history. While there are some weaknesses in the pacing and resolution of certain plot points, the strength of the characters and the historical accuracy of the novel make it a worthwhile read. You can buy a copy here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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