Review: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Published by Little, Brown Book Group Limited on 2010-10-07
Pages: 240
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'This book is the very simple story of the love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs Marks and Co, sellers of rare and secondhand books, at 84 Charing Cross Road, London'. DAILY TELEGRAPHTold in a series of letters in 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD and then in diary form in the second part THE DUCHESS OF BLOOMSBURY STREET, this true story has touched the hearts of thousands.

84, Charing Cross Road84, Charing Cross Road is a charming and bittersweet epistolary portrayal of the twenty year friendship of Helene Hanff and the employees of Marks & Co.

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

I adored “84, Charing Cross Road”. The twenty year epistolary friendship between writer, Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Co., a used bookstore in London, was so touching. It began as a simple request for a book in 1949. Helene was tired of Barnes & Noble and couldn’t find a decent antique bookshop in her area. I loved to see the formal barriers break down between the two as their friendship grew and they started using first names with each other.

Helene is sassy and sarcastic, qualities that come through clearly in her letters. Frank always remains a gentleman and never jokes back, even when she chew him up for sending her a Latin Anglican bible and not the Vulgate she requested from him. I laughed out loud on multiple occasions.

London was still on rations until 1953. Helene would often send the store a care package of meat and eggs for them to split evenly among themselves. This little gesture touched me because sometimes I need to be reminded that there is good in the world. I also loved that Helene and Frank had a genuine friendship. There was never a hint of romance. He was happily married. She was happily married to her books. They found common ground in the printed word and that was enough.

The ending is quite bittersweet. I cried for the loss of a person and for the book’s end. Hanff ends the collection of letters perfectly with a letter from Frank’s daughter. It talks about what happens when we get busy and how, sometimes, we forget to communicate with those we love the most. To me, Hanff is telling us to cherish the communication we have with people. She valued her 20 year correspondence. She never got to meet the people so dear in her heart but, in the end, that didn’t matter because they had their letters.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a short, quick read. You’ll fall in love with Helene and Frank and not want to put the book down until the letters end. It took me all of an hour. I foresee picking up this book any time I need a reminder that friendship happens in the most unlikely of correspondences and the most unlikely of places.


© 2013 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.