Friday, October 9, 2009

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

What a gem of a book! 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff tells the story of an American Writer (Helene Hanff) and the British bookseller (Frank Doel) she befriended. For twenty years Helene and Frank corresponded with each other about books, family, food, the Queen and so much more. Eventually Helene was not only writing and receiving letters from Frank, but was also befriending the rest of the staff at Marks & Co and Frank's wife, Nora. It all began when Helene was interested in finding some obscure books and happened to read an advertisement for Marks & Co (antiquarian bookshop in London, England) in the Saturday Review of Literature. She sent off a letter to the book shop with a request for some classics in 1949 and from that point on a dialogue between Helene and Frank was developed. Invitations were always lobbied Helene's way from the fine folk of Marks & Co; they all wanted to meet this lovely American woman who had gone from customer to friend. A woman with whom they shared details of their lives with and who was kind enough to send them parcels of meat, eggs and tongue during the days of rationing. Sadly, Helene was unable to afford a trip abroad during this twenty year correspondence and so she was never able to meet Frank Doel (he passed away in December 1968). Nora lets Helene know that Frank truly enjoyed receiving her letters and that she is always welcome to come visit. In the last letter we find out from Frank's daughter, Sheila, that Helene has asked the Doels' for permission to publish these letters of correspondence in order to create this very book, 84, Charing Cross Road. I suppose we know the answer to that inquiry. All in all, a very lovely book that is well written and refreshing to read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and imagining these two people writing letters to each other and their reactions upon receiving each others' letters and parcels. One letter that pops into mind is Helene's reaction to having received an abridged version of Pepys diary - the ranting and raving was over the top and the post script she included after berating Frank for the book was just icing on the cake - she inquired whether Marks & Co wanted powdered eggs or fresh ones. Its letters like this that truly made the friendship feel real and unique at the same time. One of the best books I have read this year!! And another book read for a few of my reading challenges - yay! Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!! Happy Reading!!!

This has got to be one of the best books I have read this year and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you all!


Athira said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this! Glad to see that you've loved it.

Steph said...

I've wanted to read this one for a while now, but I haven't been able to find a copy. The movie is sitting on our Netflix queue, but I won't watch it until I've read the book!

Nadia said...

Aths- Thanks! I think you'll really enjoy - its just one of those books that you can't help but like.

Steph- I have yet to watch the movie, but after reading the book, will definitely have to check it out. I got my copy at this cute indie bookshop in Knoxville.

Lisa said...

This one has been on my tbr list for awhile. Everyone seems to enjoy it; I think I need to get to it soon.

Nadia said...

Definitely, get it soon Lisa! It really is quite enjoyable! I think you'll like it.

Anonymous said...

Check out the history of Marks & Co at