Thursday 15 February 2024

The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club

Finished February 12
The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson

This novel was a delightful read. It takes place in the summer of 1919, and follows several young people who are adjusting to life after the war. Many of the women worked during the war, and have now found themselves without those jobs. Some are trying to survive on the small war widows pensions by augmenting it by other work. They aren't the only ones seemingly locked out of the work they had been doing. Men who were injured also find themselves treated as incapable. 
The central character here is Constance Haverhill. Constance's mother grew up with another woman who married into a titled family, while Constance's mother married a farmer. They continued to call each other best friends, but it seems like Lady Mercer treated her friend as an unpaid worker, often calling on her to help with childcare and other household endeavours. During the war, Constance worked as estate manager for the Mercers, but found herself quickly ousted when the war ended. With her mother dead from the influenza epidemic, she found herself called on to nurse Lady Mercer's mother, Mrs. Fog when she was ill. Her 'reward' is to act as companion to Mrs. Fog while she convalesces at a seaside hotel. 
But it is in this town that both Constance and Mrs. Fog encounter second chances. Constance meets another young woman her age, Poppy Wirrall. Poppy is also the daughter in a titled family, and she spent the war, along with other young women, working as motorcycle messengers. Poppy has started a small company offering motorcycle taxi (using sidecars) and delivery services, with a variety of young women employed part-time doing this work. Some have other jobs or widows pensions that they augment by working for her. 
Poppy's brother was a pilot during the war, and lost part of one leg in action. He is back at home, but depressed by the loss of many men he considered friends, and the inability of others to consider him employable. 
Constance is a calming force to Poppy's impulsiveness and exuberance, and as she begins to take chances, and open herself up to other possibilities in her life, I found myself hoping for a more promising future for her than she expected at the book's beginning. 
I also enjoyed Mrs. Fog, watching her go from recovering invalid to putting her own wishes first, despite the pressure of those she'd given into previously. 
I also found the story of the German waiter Klaus Zeiger touching. He is the quintessential waiter, always observant, mindful of propriety, and empathetic to the needs of those he serves. He is also highly aware of his ethnic baggage and how it has affected his life both during the war and now. I really appreciated that Constance saw him as a person, beyond his role. 
This is a novel of a time of great changes and adjustments and not all of them are fair or pleasant. This novel has moments of outrage, sadness, and joy. Well worth reading. 

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