The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club

The summertime beach resort setting could not be more dazzling for Helen Simonson's marvelous third novel, The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club, a historical drama navigating topics of class and women's rights in England after World War I. Strong on comic relief, the plot unfolds for the most part at the perfectly respectable, if not top of the line, Meredith Hotel in the British seaside town of Hazelbourne on the eve of Armistice celebrations. Here, Simonson summons an impressive and entertaining cast of trousers-wearing female motorcyclists, snooty aristocrats, one particularly pompous American, and, at the center of it all, a young woman from a farming family struggling to define the next phase of her life.

During the war Constance Haverhill managed her benefactor Lady Mercer's estate, but now the job will go to a returning veteran. She'll have to find employment and a new home soon, but in the meantime, she'll serve as a companion to Mrs. Fog, Lady Mercer's mother, as she recovers from influenza at the Meredith. Constance is soon befriended by the delightfully unconventional Poppy Wirrall, owner of a motorcycle club and a women's taxi service made up of former female "despatch riders." Poppy's glamorous mother lives at the hotel, while her handsome but prickly brother, Harris, an aviator, struggles to reclaim his independence after losing a leg in the war.

Simonson (The Summer Before the War) expertly probes cultural tensions hindering her characters' efforts at post-war reinvention, including the immense human cost of combat, the hypocrisy of letting women work during wartime but not afterward, and class differences that place Constance at a steep societal disadvantage. --Shahina Piyarali

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