“84 Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff: Book Review – A blogger before her time?
I don’t think I need my “spoilers” warning. The book’s charm, if it has any, comes from the way it is told.
The first half of the book, which was the original book, is a series of letters between the writer, Helene and the employees in a book shop in London. The second half is an account of a trip to London years later, taken on the occasion of the book’s launch.
So, what did I think?
The original series of letters was entertaining and short, despite its spanning twenty years. Formal exchanges took on both a broad and an intimate appeal as relationships were formed and sustained through the war years and beyond.
It took me a couple of hours, if that, to read. It was only disappointing insofar as it couldn’t help it – things turned out to be, well, like real life. Because it was. The writer, in reality, left some things too late, rather than being purely an author having a series of coincidences bringing about a romantic denouement.
So, I don’t really “get” the success of the original book. Cute, quirky and of social and historical interest, in a light-hearted way.
The second part of the book was a little like having to look through someone else’s holiday photos. All a little self-indulgent. But hey, I’m a blogger, I get it: READ MY STUFF! is the silent scream.
The love affair central to the work as a whole is between the writer Helene and the city of London. She is in love with it because it is the backdrop to the literature she loves. So she takes us on a name-dropping tour of sights in-and-around London ticking off here literary-heritage landmarks as she goes.
I “get” this. It’s the kind of thing I imagine doing – going to Salem and seeing where “The Crucible” was set; going to New Orleans in search of Tennessee Williams; finding a party akin to Gatsby’s to hang out at, with my cigarette holder and bobbed hair…
But still, I felt it was just as well I have something of a clue about English Literature, even in the ‘wasn’t-reallly-listening-in-lectures’ way that I do.
Overall, I think “84 Charing Cross Road” was cutesy, shmaltzy and a bit “meh”.
There were things I liked – cultural quirks, the tantrum in Oxford, the mention of Vivien Leigh – but nothing substantial to love about this work as a whole.
Maybe this book had its day – I can’t remember, therefore perhaps cannot appreciate, the whole powdered egg thing. Letters, too have had their day. Perhaps we are spoiled these days with opportunities to build up relationships with people all over the world through correspondence, given the internet and its virtual global village and all that goes on in its social networks.
Maybe she was a blogger before her time. Maybe I’d even “follow” her. But by putting it into a book and making it an all-in-two-sittings read, I don’t know. Unspectacular?
Am I harsh?
Come on Helene Hanff fans – what should I have loved about this book?
Should I watch the movie?