84, Charing Cross Road
First Published 1971 by Andre Deutsch Limited
Author: Helene Hanff.
This is the story of a love affair between a woman and a bookshop told in an unforgettable manner through the often humorous, often touching and always wonderfully well written letters of Helene Hanff, a self proclaimed poor writer, and the somewhat stiff (‘I can’t call you Helene because of the files, Ms Hanff, but I have slipped in a private letter wherein I will call you Helene) and unfailingly polite correspondence of Frank Doel (FPD until pressed by Helene to reveal his name). We are also enchanted and entertained by the hastily scribbled letters of Cecily Farr, Bill Humphries and Megan Wells to name a few – who are not supposed to write because Helene is Frank’s ‘private correspondent’ – but who do anyway.
The book commences in 1949 when Helene finds the Marks and Co advert in an American newspaper, and charmed by the promise of an antiquarian London bookstore, sends them an inquiry. The Charing Cross Road book store responds – and a relationship which spans 20 years is born.
The book’s charm lies in the setting and in the characters. Helene is a London fanatic who has never BEEN to London, but has a picture of it in her mind through the books she has read – Frank is the rather stiff upper lipped owner of the book shop.
Through her warm and touching letters, the barrier is soon broken down and an eternal friendship is formed. Helene’s warmth penetrates the entire staff of the shop – she is shocked to discover that Britain are on rations after the war and although she is a poor writer she sends food parcels and gifts which are greatly appreciated by all members of staff. She even arranges the ‘miraculous’ arrival of a parcel of nylons for Frank’s family without actually going there herself.
Tinged with sadness, 84 brings the romance of London and the warmth of a New York filled with hope and promise unforgettably together.
I fell in love with 84, Charing Cross Road when, as an eight year old I saw Shelagh Holliday play Helene on stage It inspired me to read, and to write, and also to correspond with penpals, and Helene’s love of books fuelled my own. Anne Bankcroft plays her to great acclaim in the movie. The book was also made into a TV series in America.
After I had read the book about five times I realized that there was an address on the back page – Helene’s address. I decided to send a letter to the address, without much hope of getting a response. I was delighted to receive not only a letter from, but also a photograph of Helene Hanff.
She was a lady to the last and I was saddened to hear of her death some years ago.
WORD COUNT: 462