Title: 84, Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
First published by: Grossman Publishers
Publication date: 1970
Synopsis: This charming classic love story, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, at the time, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London at 84, Charing Cross Road. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books. Their relationship, captured so acutely in these letters, is one that has touched the hearts of thousands of readers around the world.
Sometimes the best way to end up with a book in your hands is thanks to a reader friend. And this is the case for 84, Charing Cross Road. I read it following the recommendation of a comrade blogger (from the “Ramblings on my bookshelves” website). He assured me that everyone he had recommended this book to had enjoyed it, and it seems that for the moment this will continue to be the case!
This charming collection of letters is read in the blink of an eye: not only because it has no more than 100 pages, but because it will get you hooked. Sometimes reality does beat fiction, and this is an excellent case in point.
As the back cover of my Catalan edition says, "Helene Hanff (1918-1997), self-taught, began her literary career writing theatre plays, and, later on, scripts for the television, children's books, and historical and political essays. She became famous after publishing 84, Charing Cross Road, a book full of tenderness that is a delight for all readers."
And I couldn’t agree more! 84, Charing Cross Road will make you laugh, be moved, and if you are a book lover you'll surely relate to the characters.
Helene Hanff’s letters are undoubtedly the best, but we can’t underestimate the responses written by Frank Doel, the other main character in this story. I loved the evolution of his writing, and how, thanks to this collection of letters from different points of view, we can see how Hanff's relationship with the workers of the bookstore Marks & Co. evolved.
Obviously, the correspondence is not 100% complete; there is just the precise amount of letters for the reader to follow the plot. And I appreciate that, because around the second half of the book it started to become a bit repetitive for me.
Anyway, I have really enjoyed embarking on this journey in time, and the end is really touching (yes, Kleenex Warning!). This little pearl of wisdom undoubtedly deserves more than a single reading!
Additionally, in order to round off the experience, I watched the 1987 movie adaptation (entitled "The final letter" in Spanish and Catalan), starring Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins and Judy Dench among others (soon I'll write a "Book vs. Movie" post!)
In a nutshell, "84 Charing Cross Road" is like a great letter with no address or recipient, but that won’t have any trouble reaching your heart... I give you my Mixa’s word!
Some of my favourite letters
April 16, 1951
To all at 84, Charing Cross Road
Thank you for the beautiful book. I've never owned a book before with pages edged all around in gold. Would you believe it arrived on my birthday?
I wish you hadn't been so over-courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of the flyleaf. It's the book-seller coming out in you all, you were afraid you'd decrease its value. You would have increased it for the present owner. (And possibly for the future owner. I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else has turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.)
Thank you again for the beautiful book, I shall try very hard not to get gin and ashes all over it, it's really much too fine for the likes of me.
I could ROT over here before you'd send me anything to read. I oughts run straight down to brentano's which I would if anything I wanted was in print.
You may add Walton's Lives to the list of books you aren't sending me. It's against my principles to buy a book I haven't read, it's like buying a dress you haven't tried on, but you can't even get Walton's Lives in a library over here.
what do you do with yourself all day, sit in the back of the store and read? Why don't you try selling a book to somebody?
MISS Hanff to you
(I'm Helene only to my FRIENDS)
p.s. tell the girls and Nora if all goes well they're getting nylons for Lent.
14th February, 1952
I quite agree it is time we dropped the 'Miss' when writing to you. I am not really so stand-offish as you may have been had to believe, but as copies of letters I have written to you go into the office files the formal address seemed more appropriate. But as this letter has nothing to do with books, there will be no copy.
We are quite at a loss to know how you managed the nylons which appeared this noon as if by magic. [...]
I don't see how we can ever repay you for your many kind gifts. All I can say is, that if you ever decide to make the trip to England, there will be a bed for you at 37 Oakfield Court for as long as you care to stay.
With best wishes from us all,