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84 Charing Cross Road (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – 1 Sep 1982
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A lovely new edition of this classic title (Good Book Guide)
A must for anyone who reads - the correspondence between book lover Helen Hanff and Messers Marks & Cross of Charing Cross Road has been reissued. (Daily Express)
Unmitigated delight from cover to cover (DAILY TELEGRAPH)
A real-life love story . . . A timeless period piece. Do read it (WALL STREET JOURNAL)
A timeless classic that should be on every book-lover's 'must read' list. First published in 1971, 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD has never been out of print.See all Product description
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There is an essence of the various writers in each letter. The author offsets her impatience with humour. Frank Doel, her main contact at the shop, displays a courteous formality underscored by his obvious wit. The other ‘inmates’ at Charing Cross Road are more curious and open. Even Frank’s wife, their neighbour, and some of the author’s friends eventually become involved.
Each letter is short and concerns the acquisition of books alongside little personal asides. Occasional gifts are exchanged and thanks sent. All parties express an eagerness to one day meet.
It is hard to fathom why such a little book could be quite so captivating, other than the obvious quirks of the writers that are divulged in their writing. The shared love of literature and of the books themselves are appealing to any bibliophile. The historical detail referenced – post war rationing, a coronation, the purchase of a first car, the Beatles – adds to the sense of time passing and the world changing. Little is mentioned of how each correspondent looks allowing the emphasis to be rightly reserved for the people they are inside.
Perhaps it is the lack of explanatory text. The letters are allowed to tell the story and they are enough.
This is a meeting of minds, a shared love, a poignant reminder of what friendship can be. It is a gentle and beautiful read.
Note: This edition of the book also contains Helene Hanff's 'The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street' which I review separately.
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...
What made this book so utterly engrossing to me is that none of these letters were written with publication in mind, there's nothing fake about them and as such they give an engrossing insight into the private lives of these ordinary but very charming people, and the lives they led somewhere between 1949 and 1969. It would almost make you wish there wasn't an amazon, and books need still be ordered by post.