Tag: Review of Literature

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Posted January 18, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene HanffTitle: 84 Charing Cross Road (Goodreads)
Author: Helene Hanff
Published: Virago, 1970
Pages: 230
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

84 Charing Cross Road documents twenty-year of correspondences between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel. Helene was an American writer while Frank the chief buyer of Marks & Co, an antiquarian bookseller located at the eponymous address in London, England. Starting out as a request for obscure classics, the book follows the blossoming relationship with Helene and the people of Marks & Co. Followed by The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, a collection of diary entries of Helene’s trip to England and the tour of bookshops.

Helene noticed an ad in the Saturday Review of Literature and first contacted the shop in 1949. This started a beautiful love story found in this book, not between Helene and Frank but rather a love of books. This is the type of book you read if you are a book lover; it makes me wish I could correspond with a bookstore (or a book lover) about books. Can you imagine this happening with Amazon or Book Depository? Nowadays we have twitter (which I’m always on talking about my love of books) but 140 characters sometimes are not enough to say what you want to say.

I went into this book a little unsure, a collection of letters between a book lover and a bookseller, how great can this book really be? What I found was that the silver tongue and wit of Helene Hanff really made this book for me. You know that feeling in writing where you not sure if the person is being sarcastic or not, I started off wondering this but so found she had a wicked sense of humour and I’m so glad the people of Marks & Co never took offense (or they didn’t appear to). This might have been their (Frank Doel and the others that wrote to Helene) professional nature that slowly changed into a friendship, once they started to get to know each other and understood her sense of humour.

One of the major problems I had with this book is not really a problem but a personal preference, which has to do with grammar and formatting. I understand they tried to keep the writing the same as the letters but I wouldn’t mind if they fixed it a little to add punctuation and correct it. Another thing that throws me was the missing letters, I know things get lost but when you are absorbed in a conversation about a book (like Pride and Prejudice) it is disappointing to not know what happened.

The edition of 84 Charing Cross Road I borrowed from the library also came with The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. This is the travel diary of Helene Hanff’s time visiting London. Looking at details of this book the term ‘zesty memoir’ is mentioned a few times, but I felt it to be a disappointment in comparison. It was entertaining but it didn’t have the banter or wit I expected, it just felt like a step by step play of everything Helene did while visiting London. While these two books work as companion pieces The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street was too one sided for my taste. Think of it like a sequel, once you finish 84 Charing Cross Road you’ll probably want to know what happened on her trip to London.

84 Charing Cross Road has been made into a movie and a stage play; I’ve not seen them but I’m interested to see how this book translates into another medium. I love how the book is promoted with the line “so begins a love affair”; this is a love affair with books. I managed to write this entire review without mentioning this is an epistolary book that I feel the need to mention my achievement. Highly recommend that you get your hands on both novels and reading them, especially if you are a lover of books.