On the 27th of June this year, we were travelling by coach from Heathrow to Milton Keynes, when I was suddenly startled by something on a distant field. It was a great big warehouse building, I seem to remember it as bright, light blue, and on its side were written, in whopping big letters: amazon.co.uk. My memory might decieve me, my camera was too far down in my backpack to get a picture and I was extremely excited. In our home, a despatch message from amazon is cause for celebration and a thimble of the best scotch.
I imagine Helene Hanff felt something like it when finally she entered the rooms of what had been Marks & Co at 84 Charing Cross Road. (I show you the back of the book, with the photo of the shop.) Have you seen the film? With mega-wonderful Anne Bancroft? Anthony Hopkins on one of his really good days? I cannot remember the first time I saw it, but I was totally charmed by this tale of the introverted, temperamental, bohemian but elegant New York writer and her correspondence with the London bookshop. I believe I have the film on an old VHS cassette somewhere, at least I hope I do, because now I want to see it again, tonight!
I was reminded of this book - I meant to read it years ago but never got to it - by some blog or other I read the other day, and I picked it up from the library yesterday. The volume not only contained "84, Charing Cross Road" but also "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street", the book in which she tells the story of the visit she finally made to London, 22 years after her dealings with the bookshop had started.
It´s easy to fall in love with Helene Hanff. She is the archetypal booklover and very funny, and I was particularly chuffed that she visited some of the same places that we visited this summer, and I can compare my own notes to hers. It´s a bit like finding a friend who really, really understands. No wonder this book is so loved. And, it´s a fast read. But it´s one you will want come back to. At least I do. An absolute favourite. And I think I must explore other books by her. Soon.