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4.7 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 7 March 2005
"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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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!! I loved The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street because I felt the same way when I visited England--it really touched my heart.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 February 2016
84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff, is an entertaining, evocative and moving collection of letters sent by the author, from her home in New York, to the staff at an antiquarian bookshop in London. Their correspondence spanned twenty years and resulted in a valued friendship.

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.
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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...
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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!
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on 30 September 2012
What an extraordinary tale this is! In these days, it seems almost alien to write (on paper! by post!!) to another person across the Atlantic to order a book, and then wait for weeks for an answer, perhaps only to learn that the coveted book is not to be had. But soon, Helene Hanff (the voracious but discriminate reader living in New York) and Frank Doel (the bookseller living in London) are corresponding about lots more than books, other correspondents from the bookshop and from Frank's family join in, and not just books but food parcels as well are being sent across the ocean.

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.
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