Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

84 Charing Cross Road & The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff

Non-Fiction  5*'s

I first heard about this book many months ago on the Blog:Musings From A Bookmammal and sold on the fact that this was an epistolary novel written by a booklover.

A delightful book, 84 Charing Cross Road is a book entirely made up of letters detailing the correspondence that spanned twenty years between Helene Hanff and the booksellers Messers Marks & Co.

Starting in 1949 Helene from New York, wrote to the booksellers requesting a list of books, having found their details in a newspaper and Frank Doel responds with his finds three weeks later. As the correspondence deepens Helene Hanff’s humour and kindness shine through and soon other members of staff and their families are also writing and receiving their own personal responses. Booklovers will enjoy tracking the non-fiction titles Helene demands with varying levels of urgency.

It has to be said not a great deal happens in this very slim tome but Helene Hanff manages to give the reader a little slice of social history, especially detailing the ongoing rationing in the early 1950’s. The writing style is what carries his book along.

In The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street the reader gets to hear all the details of her long-awaited trip to London which followed the publication of 84 Charing Cross Road. A delightful addition where the author is courted by both those she corresponded with and her newer fans. Written in the form of a journal of her stay her humour is even more pronounced.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this one and I’d like to thank Bookmammal for the recommendation.


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

14 thoughts on “84 Charing Cross Road & The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff

  1. Cleo – You know, ‘a slice of history’ was exactly what occurred to me when I was reading your description of the book. It does sound like a unique look at a time and place.


  2. HURRAY! I am so glad you’ve met Helene Hanff at last!
    I agree with you–there’s not a lot of action in 84–the selling point is that the reader gets to “eavesdrop” into the written conversations between people who love books. What more could any booklover ask for? And I also agree with your response to the comment above–there is no way that this could be replicated today.
    You may want to read Hanff’s book “Q’s Legacy”–it’s about how she came to write 84, and what happened in the years after she wrote it. Very interesting . . .


    1. Thank you again for the recommendation and it took me a while but I got there in the end! I really enjoyed this book which I read while on my holiday and I have Q’s Legacy on the list of books to look out for. All the way through I was thinking what a lovely way to find books, how much easier it is today but far less engaging.


  3. This is my ‘go to’ book when I am feeling low. There is nothing better than to spend time in the company of another feisty book lover. Now you need to read ‘Q’s Legacy’ which is about what happens when 84 is turned into a stage play.


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