I thought that this was an epistolary novel before I looked it up in the card catalog at my local library. When I saw that it was classed with essays in the 814s, I realized that it was nonfiction. It’s a correspondence between writer Helene Hanff and the staff of the British bookstore located on 84, Charing Cross Road. Hanff learned of the bookstore by reputation and, loathing expensive and shoddy copies at Barnes and Noble, determined that it would be cheaper to buy good quality second-hand books from across the Atlantic than to purchase the same books in new print four blocks from her house. Thus began a twenty-year correspondence with the staff at the bookshop.
The book was fun. Hanff chews out the staff at the bookshop if they send her something she loathes, but will always end the letter on a piece of witticism or a kind inquiry after their coworkers and families. It’s a bit of a peek into postwar Britain, where wives swapped rationed tinned powdered eggs with their neighbors for nylons and meat. And, of course, the entire thing is tied up with the books recommended, searched for, and purchased with the enclosed dollars (as Hanff never did understand the exchange rate). I read this book on the train and finished it during my lunch hour, saddened as I got to the end of the book because I knew that the correspondence had to end.
The book was made into a movie, and I’ve heard that it’s a love story. However, the book is not. I like the people involved all the better for being the best of friends and never seeming to consider otherwise.