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Haphazard comparisons to Jane Austen are to be immediately regretted, but there's no getting around it with "The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club." If Austen had lived a century later than she did, it feels very much like a book she'd have written.

The third novel from Helen Simonson, who made a smashing debut with "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand," takes place as a World War I settlement finally comes together. Men have returned to southeastern England, where women took on new roles in their absence. No one is quite sure how things are supposed to work now, because the world can never go back to the way it was, even if most men seem to wish it would. (This, of course, is also territory "Downton Abbey" covered.)

Constance Haverhill is our very Austen-tatious heroine. Like Austen in real life and a couple of her protagonists in books, there's money and property in Constance's family, but it has gone to the men and she is left to make her own way. Without a dowry to attract a spouse, she is trying to figure out next steps while working as a companion to an elderly and, her name notwithstanding, extremely clear-headed woman named Mrs. Fog.

At the seaside hotel where they live, Constance meets Poppy, a spirited heiress who, in the absence of men, began a motorcycle taxi service, entirely staffed by women. She'd also like to teach them to fly with the help of her brother Harris, who lost a leg in the war and, like Constance, isn't sure what's next.

Simonson's warm, charming book has stock characters who will be familiar to Austen fans, including a bossy, bigoted matron who's practically begging for someone to smear a cucumber sandwich in her face, dim beauties who underestimate Constance's intelligence and handsome gentlemen who hide their true feelings behind gruff exteriors. There's also a last-minute reversal that gives us a new way of looking at practically everything in the preceding 400 pages.

Because it takes place a century after Austen, Simonson can lean into themes her predecessor flirted with, including budding feminism and chafing at the unfairness of England's class system (Simonson writes that Constance "absorbed too well her mother's philosophy that intelligence and education made one the equal of all; now she saw it was probably just the hollow illusion of people without money.")

The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club
The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club

Simonson overstuffs her plot in "Hazelbourne" — a visiting dignitary from India never really makes sense and chapters narrated from a waiter and from Harris' perspectives are jarring — but her writing is as amusing and subtle as ever. Take, for instance, Constance's droll reaction when an acquaintance claims they're like sisters and of course Constance will be happy to do her a favor: "It is the very definition of sisterhood to be taken for granted."

That sounds like a crack Elinor Dashwood might have made in "Sense and Sensibility" but I've mentioned Austen too much already. Although "Hazelbourne" undoubtedly will appeal to Austen fans, it stands on its own as a thoughtful, entertaining novel about women on the brink of great change.

The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club

By: Helen Simonson.

Publisher: Dial Press, 417 pages, $29.