BOOK REVIEW: 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD BY HELENE HANFF

84 charring

GENERAL INFORMATION

TITLE: 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD

AUTHOR: HELENE HANFF

PAGES: 95

PUBLISHER: VIRAGO BOOKS

YEAR: 1971

GENRE: MEMOIR

COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/84,_Charing_Cross_Road

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helene_Hanff

BLURB FROM THE COVER

‘Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialise in out of print books. The phrase ‘antiquarian booksellers’ scares me somewhat as I equate ‘antique’ with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble grimy, marked up schoolboy copies’.

So begins the delightfully reticent love affair between Miss Helena Hanff of New York and Messrs Mark & Co, sellers of rare and secondhand books at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. For twenty years this outspoken New York writer and Frank Doel, a rather more restrained London bookseller, carry on an increasingly touching correspondence to the point where, in early December 1949, Helene is suddenly worried that the six-pound ham she’s sent off to augment British rations will arrive at a kosher office.

Soon they are sharing more personal news about Frank’s family and Hanff’s career. No doubt their letters would have continued but in 1969 the firm’s secretary informed Helene that Frank Doel had died.  In the collection’s penultimate entry, Helena Hanff urges a tourist friend, ‘If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me. I owe it so much’…  

REVIEW

84 Charing Cross Road is a memoir. The letters between Hanff, Doel, the other workers in the bookshop and their neighbours and families are true.

My copy contains a second memoir, a sequel called The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street that I’m going to read and review separately.

84 Charing Cross Road was adapted for the screen in 1987 starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/84_Charing_Cross_Road_(film). It’s also been adapted a play.

HIGHLIGHTS: 84 Charing Cross Road is an epistolary memoir written in the form of letters between Hanff and various people connected to the booksellers. I haven’t read anything in this format before. I really enjoyed it. It worked really well but was quite unusual. This created a very fragmented narrative with multiple narrators. I don’t think the epistolary format would suit every type of story. Hanff makes it work really well. I loved the little glimpses I got into the lives of all the characters in 84 Charing Cross Road. Helene writes to Frank and others about the ups and down of her career. Frank and various other people write about their families and the struggles of the Second World War. I just really enjoyed this. I got really caught up in 84 Charing Cross Road. I read it in less than an hour.

LOWLIGHTS: I didn’t realise my copy contained a second memoir by Hanff, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street so I thought 84 Charing Cross Road was 200+ pages long. I was having a great time reading 84 Charing Cross Road and got really into the memoir when it abruptly ended. I felt a little cheated by the publisher. The front cover just has the name 84 Charing Cross Road on it as does the title page. Bad publisher. I felt 84 Charing Cross Road was too short considering the letters went on for twenty years. I also wanted to know more about Hanff, Frank and the other characters. I felt the epistolary structure of the memoir was a bit too restrictive.

THE OPENING LINE

Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialise in out of print books…

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed 84 Charing Cross Road. I didn’t know it was a memoir until I did some research prior to reading it. It was essentially a memoir in which nothing much happened but it was lovely and touching and emotional nonetheless. I wish it had been longer.

RATING

4 STAR RATING

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