"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.