Miles Wang's Reviews > 84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
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Nov 02, 2008

it was amazing

The work is based on a series of letters.
Helene Hanff is responding to an advertisement for a bookseller specializing in out-of-print books. Knowing nothing of Marks & Co. in London, she sends a list of "her most pressing problems": copies of secondhand books she cannot find, and a request that they must be clean copies costing no more than $5.00. The books arrive safely and their twenty-year relationship began.
Helene had learnt that the shops have been rationed to small amounts of meat and eggs to help with the war effort. Out of pity, Helene decides to send the booksellers at Charing Cross Road a six-pound ham. Later Frank Doel responds to Helene’s kindness. In the letter, he said, “we either never see or can only be had through the black market.”
Cecily, another store employee, cannot help her curiosity, wrote to Helene that she has been “dying to slip in a little note” with Helene's bills from the bookseller. Cecily imagines her to be young and very intelligent, while others think she is studious-looking. Cecily requests a snapshot of Helene.
Letter writing is based on skills. It is an expression of self on paper. It leaves much white space to imagine the person behind the words, their appearance, their personality and their life.
Cecily first contacts Helene because her curiosity about the writer, about how she looks.
On January 8, 1969, Helene is informed of Frank's death. He was unexpectedly rushed to the hospital and died a week later. A letter from Nora Doel, Frank’s wife, followed twenty-one days afterward. Nora admits that she has always been envious of Helene's writing ability and of Helene and Frank's relationship.
When Maxine says she is going to London and asks Helene if she would like to go, Helene almost wept when asked if she would consider going, provided she had the fare. She decides that maybe it was best she did not go after having dreamt about it for so many years.

“If you happen to pass by, kiss it for me. I owe it so much, ” she said to her girlfriend at the end of the conversation.
Surely, it is best do not go after having dreamt about it for so many years. Distance is beauty. The greatest fun is not to come to see, to observe what the bookstore in Charing Cross Road is like, but the imagination Helene had these years. Not having the chance of seeing exactly what Frank is like leaves Helene much white space to imagine the person behind.
Leaving you much white space to imagine, that is why, in my opinion, reading overweights watching. That’s why we get disappointed after we watch the movies directed based on the novels origins—they disgrace our imagination.
Distance is beauty, imagination is fun.
Maybe that’s why people honor this book as “Reader’s Bible”.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Nina This was also a lovely little movie with Anne Bancroft playing the Helene Hanff role--I really enjoyed your review and I think I'll reread this book. Amazing to think what those editions would cost today, if they were even available.


Miles Wang Thank you very much for your kind comment.
Another lovely movie named -You've Got Mail- was also based on the idea of this book. Tom Hanks & Mag Ryan played the leading roles. It was a little bit like a modern version of the story. Quite a different experience.


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