Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"84, Charing Cross Road" by Helene Hanff

This is the charming (and true!) account of the correspondence between an American woman and the staff of a British bookshop, which I heard about here. First published in 1970, it is an epistolary novel that begins in 1949 and spans twenty years.

The majority of the letters focus on the titles of books Helene Hanff (the American) hopes to buy--quite an eclectic selection!--though everything from baseball to royalty is worked in along the way. It may not be the most eventful book I've ever read, but somehow it's still engaging all the way through, managing to draw the reader in easily. And it's really short, so it just flies by.

One of the most interesting things about this book is the difference between the American and the British voice. From the very beginning, Helene writes to Marks & Co with a bold familiarity couched in humor and mild, good-natured castigation, whereas the British writers (most often represented by Frank Doel) are very business-like and proper at the beginning, slowly warming up to Miss Hanff as the book goes on.

In 1973 Hanff published a follow-up memoir entitled The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Have you read it?


Ben Carroll said...

I've never heard of this, but it sounds utterly fascinating, and utterly unique. I'm gonna keep an eye out for this.

Andi said...

Haven't read her follow-up but I LOVED this one. The movie is a lot of fun, too.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I loved this book - it's so cheerful and charming and happy, that I feel that everyone I know should read it!! My review is here.

I read Duchess as well, but I preferred 84 Charing Cross Road.

Nicola said...

I loved this book, too. Hanff published a couple of other memoirs about life in her apartment which were very enjoyable but seem to be out of print now, I'd love to re-read them.

Kathy said...

Ben--I hope you find it, and I hope you enjoy it!

Andi--I may have to check out the movie!

Cookie--you're right, it's certainly charming.

Nicola--judging by this one, I'm not surprised that her others were good too. I'll have to keep an eye out for them.

Cozy in Texas said...

I didn't know this was based on a true story. I remember seeing the movie years ago. I bet the book was better.

Kathy said...

Ann--yep, true story! You may be right about the book being better--seems like it usually happens that way.