Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book Review - Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: 1970
Format: Paperback, 97 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road is a compendium of the twenty year correspondence between the New York writer Helene Hanff and the British bookseller Frank Doel. One day Miss Hanff saw an ad in the Saturday Evening Review for the Marks & Co. Bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road saying they specialize in antiquarian and out-of-print books and immediately writes them with a list of the rare non-fiction she is looking for which she is unable to find stateside. The shop is able to supply the books to her in wonderful clean and tight copies for next to nothing, and there starts the connection. Through the years she becomes a part of the staffs' lives and they hers, though they never meet.

With this book you walk away with the feeling you wish more bookshops were still like this. That intimate one on one friendship where they knew what you were looking for and were able to find you gorgeous books for a pittance. I also thought of my friends down in Houston who run Murder by the Book, maybe I should start sending then ham and eggs at the holidays to show how much I really appreciate them. Also the love of books that these people had is rarely seen nowadays. They bonded over a shared love of knowledge and history.

While at times Miss Hanff comes across as abrasive, the British view it as her type of wit, and perhaps it is, because she generously sends them holiday gift baskets to help during the hard times inflicted by the continuation of rationing. Or perhaps she just liked being a fairy godmother to those far away, embracing those who were dear to her in the only way she could. See Helene Hanff hated travel and never actually met Frank Doel, and perhaps these gifts were her way of saying sorry for me not being there. But at the end when Frank dies you are conflicted. You are left with on the one hand, you should never leave anything too late because you never know what might happen. But on the other hand, could Helene or Frank really have lived up to the others expectations?

In her last letter contained in the book to her friend Katerine, you feel that perhaps all along you never knew how much that book shop meant to Helene, that behind the false bravado of a New York writer there was just someone longing to connect to someone else and she found it half a world away with people she never truly knew. You also cry out, the book is too short, the sequel is out of print, the time lapses sometimes go for months or years, was this due to letters being lost or just edited out? You just want to live in this long ago and far away world a little more, even if it isn't the stuff of fiction, which is how Helene would like it.


This one looks interesting. Thanks for sharing your review!

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Why thank you! You are so sweet!

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