21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 30 April 2001
I continually find myself surprised by the depth of emotion that I experience on re-reading this great work. I went to buy a copy just after seeing the film on late night television and some one bought the last copy just before me. Waiting the week for the special order whetted my appetite for it all the more. I must say that I highly recommend all of her works, "The Apple of My Eye," and "Q's Legacy" come to mind immediately.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
"84 Charing Cross Road" is a series of letters charting the twenty-year correspondence between a would-be playwright in NY and Frank Doel, a London antiquarian bookseller. From such a modest premise, Helene Hanff has created something with an almost unique charm which continues to endure as a successful book, play and film.
To me the great joy of Hanff is her style. She is wonderfully conversational, humorous and self-depreciating. She describes her life - learning ancient Greek or watching endless English films - with panache. However, in truth very little happens in these pages. Rather, it is the gently teasing nature of her relationship with Doel which shines out, the feistiness of the young American lady chaffing against the more reserved nature of the quiet, polite English gent, as they read their way through the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
On her death, the Times said tartly, "Seldom has a writer sailed to literary fame in so slender a craft." It is true that 84 CXR is a very slim tome. Yet it is one that bears much re-reading, as it seems that somewhere between the lines there lie more than a few life-lessons for us all.
Pilgrims to the real-life 84 Charing Cross Road will be sad to find that it no longer exists as such. Look out for an "All Bar One" however and a dull, bronze plaque commemorating the bookstore.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2002
I first came across this book many years ago and since then have read it at least 5 times. I think the extraordinary thing about it is that the book is no more than a selection of business letters - and a short one at that. However, through these letters you are given an insight into two different worlds, buzzing New York in the 1950s in the case of Helene Hanff, and down-at-heel post-war London in the case of Frank Doel. What comes through more than anything in this book is the essential humanity of the characters concerned. These are real people living real lives, whether it be Bill Humphries living with his elderly aunt in Southend-on-Sea or Mrs Boulton living in the flat next to Frank Doel. Naturally Helene Hanff's razor-sharp wit spices up the book considerably and no doubt played a large part in its success. I personally think it was a godsend that she and Frank Doel never met. No doubt the chemistry between them would not have survived such a meeting, as, deep down, I think both were essentially shy, able to express themselves much better and much more freely on paper than ever would have been the case had they been talking face-to-face. Read this book if only to understand what makes a good letter!
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 2009
This is the first book I've finished this year since Jasper Fforde's "Lost in a Good Book" in February. My concentration and free time have been non-existent, which didn't help with my university-ingrained need to close read every. single. full. stop. in. a. book. I think it is very telling that with all the good books I've picked up and drifted away from since February, this is the one I put my foot down about finishing. For, this isn't just a good book - it's a great book.
The subject matter (the twenty-year correspondence between Helene Hanff, struggling NY scriptwriter and Frank Doel, poised London bookseller) is as brittle as it is beautiful, so I won't spoil the sparse human events that pepper this tale of literary friendship. Make sure you avoid all blurbs and introductions - which, assuming we are all more informed than we actually are, don't think twice about telling us how the story ends. Just read the thing.
I defy you not to have a lump firmly lodged in your throat when you reach the end. I know I did, even though I'd been preparing myself for it from page 1. This isn't a book which will have you in fits of laughter, or bawling your way through wads of Kleenex; it is the kind of book that has you constantly see-sawing between subtle grinning and eye-brimming.
I am not one to bandy the word "delightful" around the place (so few things nowadays are), but I think that's possibly the only word capable of encapsulating this book. I am happy that, on a whim, I purchased this in the beautiful textile hardcover Virago edition - I know I'll treasure this slim volume forever. I have found kindred spirits in Helene and Frank, ones that I'm loath to let go. The book, while giving me so much, also took a sizeable chunk out of me - having finished it mere moments ago and rushed to type up my thoughts and impressions, I'm simultaneously euphoric and depressed. I suppose I'll just have to read it again to find that chunk once more.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2007
This has become a favourite book for me. Told with such poignant charm, through the letters and other communications from the time. Even those letters which are obviously missing, lost through the passage of time - tell their own story. Helene's long distance friendship with Frank Doel, and others he worked with at that now famous address is a bittersweet one, and one which will remain with the reader long afterwards. Helene's love of books is infectious - and this book is therefore a must for anyone who feels strongly about the books in their home.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 1999
My English friend loaned this book to me and I had to get a copy for myself--from England. Thank you Amazon.co.uk!! I loved The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street because I felt the same way when I visited England--it really touched my heart.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 1999
It is just a simple little book. But it is so charming and heartbreaking at the same time. If you are a book lover, you will love this book!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2013
I saw the film 84 Charing Cross Road some years ago with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins in the leading roles as the bibliophile American Helene Hanff and the English bookseller Frank Doel. I remember their brilliant acting and their unsentimental relationship when sending each other letters across the Atlantic - the first writing in a direct and American way when ordering her books; the other answering with typical English reserve and politeness. However, in spite of their difference of form it was obvious to me that they nourished a deep sympathy and respect for each other.
It is interesting to see how close the film follows the first part of the book, the second part is about Helene coming to England and how she is treated by friends and admirers when her book is going to be published. This part is not incorporated in the film and I, for my part, read it almost as an afterthought of what I see as the main part; the correspondence between Helene and Frank. Their relationship lasted for twenty years; from 1949, when Helene saw an ad in Saturday Review of Literature saying that Frank's shop was a specialist in out-of-print books, till he died of a ruptured appendix in 1969. Through the letters we get more than a glimpse of English post-war austerity juxtaposed to American affluence - giving Helene an opportunity to show her empathy by sending food to Frank and the staff at the bookshop - food they never saw or was only obtainable on the black market at the time.
All in all, this is a lovely story and a homage to English culture and literature from an anglophile who admire the "Englishness" of the country. And since the setting is English post-war gloom we meet people who are less blasé and more innocent than people of today in their pursuit of the good life. And that is perhaps the main reason for the book's appeal...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
These letters are the genuine communications between American book collector and play-write, Helene Hanff, and Frank Doel, the very English salesman of Marks & Co, 84 Charing Cross Road, London. They originated from Miss Hanff's desperation at not being able to find affordable, good quality editions of the antique books she was seeking, in America. She decided to contact a book seller in England, though she always insisted in payment by dollar bills, rather than the accepted money orders.
Over a period of twenty years, a friendship developed between Helene and Frank, and spread to others within the shop. I'm sure she became quite a talking point amongst them!
During the years of rationing she sent food parcels at Christmas, enough to share between the staff. I think this gesture, more than anything, reflected her unselfish character.
Despite many invitations to visit London, she never quite made it accross the Atlantic and the ending left me with goosebumps on my skin.
My audio version was beautifully read by Juliet Stevenson and John Nettles, taking on the parts of Miss Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, respectively. Having the letters read to me probably enhanced my enjoyment, as compared to reading them in book form, and the American vs English accents, heightened the narration.
My audio version also included an interview with the narrators about the book but I found this irritating and it did not enhance the book at all.
Although this was an enjoyable book to listen to, kind of quaint, I'd rate it at four, rather than five stars.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2011
I miss old fashioned letters, perhaps especially now that we live in the age of email. There are so few real letters left now, and this little collection here is a gem. I was reminded of some old 'real' letters saved, having by now collected dust, left from my parent's generation, and from a time long gone by.
Occasionally I stumble over collections of published letters in antique bookstores.
I found this by accident in my favorite corner book store. It is by Helene Hanff, and it's thin so it easily escapes your eye. Happy to learn that it has been reprinted by Penguin.
I was in stitches the moment I opened and began reading the first letter, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them.
With book orders from Amazon now, the occasion for the letters will likely not be repeated. Helene was ordering used books from the book store in London.
The collection covers letters exchanged between ordinary people living their separate and ordinary lives on two Continents; one, Helene, in America, a freelance writer, living alone in a small apartment in New York City, E 95th Street, and in England, the staff in an antique bookstore in London, on 84, Charing Cross Road, Marks & Co; mainly Frank signing the letters from Charing Cross Road. The period spans three decades, starting a few years after WW 2, in the period of austerity in England.
By now, I have read it several times. I also learned that it has become a cult classic. And it has even been turned into a movie.
I found the book especially captivating because of its humanity and good humor. It brings the times and the people to life.
And the contrast of cultures can't help but to captivate; the no-nonsense prose of Helene, contrasted with the British polite formalities.
From Marks & Co to Helene: "Dear Madam; In reply to your letter of October 5th... ." And a PS in Helene's reply letter: "I hope "madam" doesn't mean over there what it does here."
The exchanges continue through the years, each one with book orders from Helene, and payments enclosed in the envelopes from Helene. And during rationing in London, there are food packages from Helene to friends at Marks & Co.
Sometime in the sixties, Frank dies unexpectedly. Sadly the two never get to meet in person.
In one of Helene's last letters: "The blessed man who sold me all these books died ... . If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much." -- Review by Palle Jorgensen, April 2011.