Monday, 23 May, 2022

84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff

It seems fitting to me somehow that I bought my copy of this book second hand. I had seen the film first and had remembered it as a charming film that was one of those stories that no bibliophile or romantic could fail to fall in love with; well, unless they had a heart of stone that is. It had been a while since I had seen the film and I have to say that I hadn’t thought that, though the film was built that way, that the book would be of an epistolary structure. It works so well here in a way that it may not have done as straight forward storytelling. It is strange the power a private correspondence has of drawing you in. Perhaps it is easy to imagine that both writers of the letters are somehow addressing you directly. I would perhaps describe it as a light book, but that is in no way to detract from it. I don’t know how many of those high-minded folk who check their top 100 list of most influential books would feel about it, but people who want to be involved in something eminently human and touching are advised to rush to their local store and find a copy. It is one of those books that runs the full gamut of emotions — from light and breezy and humourous to occasionally, though not often, very sad. It encapsulates the attitudes of a different era, one that makes you feel quite mournful for some of the aspects of that culture which we are unlikely to ever recapture. You see the differences in the way of life in America and the UK, but they are never delineated in a way as to detract from either. I think it is very asy to write a depressing book, a violent book — but to write one which is truly uplifiting is not something that many writers achieve; it has most likely never been very fashionable to be what some people might dismiss as emotional. This book is not sappy though — it somehow sidesteps all the pitfalls that this kind of book can so easily fall into. The issue which I had was combined with The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street which deals with Hanff’s eventual visit to England to both promote the book 84 Charing Cross Road and to meet some of the people she had been writing to all those years. It was a satisfactory companion piece but for me at least didn’t possess the same kind of magic as the first book — though it had its own charm and introduced some lovely characters and had the same easy flow which made it a pleasure to read. You could just get 84 Charing Cross Road and not bother with The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street but when they both come in such a slim and affordable volume why not just go for it? I didn’t want this book to end — you get totally sucked into it’s world and it is so comfortable you want to stay there.

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