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Blog > Book Review: 84 Charing Cross Road

Hi everyone! Nicky again, with one of my reviews about books that feature mail!

Last time I wrote about books for the blog, I was enthusing over Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Documents in the Case, a mystery novel which relies almost totally on written evidence. This time, I’m talking about something completely different: 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff.

Cover of 84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road is actually non-fiction: Helene Hanff was a writer and screenwriter from New York, who entered into a 20-year correspondence with a bookshop on Charing Cross Road, in London. She corresponded at first with a man named Frank Doel, but her funny letters and generous presents (such as food parcels containing food British people couldn’t obtain at the time due to rationing) quickly endeared her to the entire staff and to their families.

After Frank Doel’s death, she decided to publish some of their correspondence, and this was published as the book 84 Charing Cross Road — which is the book Helene (you can’t call her by her surname after reading this book) is best remembered for!

Reading the collection, I couldn’t help but quote bits aloud to my wife, almost every other page! Helene’s letters are warm and witty, and while Frank’s replies are rather more reserved, you can see an odd sort of friendship developing between them. Here’s one of the letters where she teases him for taking a while to find her a book:

“Dear Speed—You dizzy me, rushing Leigh Hunt and the Vulgate over here whizbang like that. You probably don’t realize it, but it’s hardly more than two years since I ordered them. You keep going at this rate you’re gonna give yourself a heart attack.”

It sounds like the plot of a romance, but Frank Doel was happily married, and… well, I’ll warn you all ahead of time: he and Helene never met. Throughout the letters she refers again and again to a visit that she never manages — at least not until after his sudden death and the closure of the shop where he worked.

My copy (from Sphere, published in 2010) does include The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, a book which collects Helene’s journal entries from her trip to London. It’s a satisfying follow-up if you’ve got attached to everyone via their correspondence in 84 Charing Cross Road, because you get to hear a little more from Nora (Frank’s wife), and Helene’s joy at finally reaching London is palpable.

Cover of Going Postal

I found it a really enjoyable read — though I almost found it difficult to believe that these people really existed and really sent these letters! There’s something incredibly sweet about their 20-year correspondence, short as it seems from this rather selective collection. It’s quite easy to dip in and out of, too, if you’re looking for a short/easy read. I loved it, and definitely recommend it!

I’m still taking suggestions for books about mail and mail-related topics, so do let me know any new ones you’ve thought of! I love non-fiction as well as fiction, and I’m totally open in terms of genre. The next post will probably be about Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal… but I’m notoriously capricious about reading, so I’m making no promises!

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54 comments so far

steviewren, United States of America
This is one of my favorite books. I love seeing the story develop through their correspondence.
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Mattie07, Netherlands
Huh, interesting, I've always been sort of morbidly curious about reading letters exchanged by other people than myself, so this might just be a perfect book for me.
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meanie-jay, Germany
It's such a great read, I really loved it. And I found it so sad that those two never met. I think there was even a film made out of it ?
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Louisekyra, Netherlands
The book was made into a film in 1987, with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins in the lead roles.
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RalfH, Germany
I'd call Hanff naughty but nice!
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Nique, Canada
What a FUNtastic thread!
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Indreni, United States of America
I loved 84, Charing Cross Road and Duchess of Bloomsbury St! Right now I'm reading Dear Elizabeth, which is a Sarah Ruhl play about the long friendship through correspondence between the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.
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rormsby, United States of America
Thank you for the blog. I enjoyed reading your comments.

I really enjoyed the film too. Anthony Hopkins was perfect as the reserved, polite Brit addressing his wife as "Mrs. Doel" and Anne Bancroft basically played Anne Bancroft, (meant as a compliment.) I sometimes do routines from the fim with my wife after dinner saying, "That was a delicious dinner, Mrs. O". She'll give me a funny look and say, thank you or just nod and smile.
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Ladysharon1, United States of America
One of my all time favorites!😷
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Flippie, Canada
Thank you for sharing the good book lovers news. I'm going to the bookstore today to pick up my copy. I'm curios now.
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GlobalFriend, United States of America
I have seen the movie and really loved it. It was perfectly cast. Now I am truly interested in reading the book and being charmed again.
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stargazer-daisy, United Kingdom
Thank you for the reminder about this book. I’ve read it a few times over the years, enjoying each time. Maybe it’s time to revisit it.
I don’t think many people these days correspond like that, it’s all emails or short sharp comments on social media plus emojis now.
I love reading my postcards and the occasional letter. 😀
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Phibatola, Greece
I have read the book and loved it. It’s one of my favorites. Love the movie too. I didn’t know about the following book of the London trip. Will look for it
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Roha, United States of America
I have read the book few years ago and loved it. I do write letters to my children and to strangers sometime.
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babytreese, United States of America
I must get this book! I would also suggest The Pleasures of Staying in Touch by Jennifer Williams. My favorite letters are from Napoleon to Marie Antoinette.
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JeannetteJoh, United States of America
A sweet little book, and the movie was well done, too. What a great relationship those two had.

Please do review "Going Postal," whenever the fancy strikes you! Another fun read!
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KENNY_YANG, China
Thank you!I must get this book!
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Vera2013714, China
This is one of my favorite books!!! And in some extent, it's the beginning of my love for letters & postcards.
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Demmi, Romania
Nice review and made me want to read it in the close future! You see not only you are capriccios about reading!
So I'm making no promises, me too!
Happy readings & Happy Postcrossing!
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Bookworm610, United Kingdom
This is one of my favourite books and unlike anything else I have ever come across.
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Highrisk, France
Ho! I've never read the book but the movie adaptation is one of my top favorite films, it's a very moving story, and for a lover of mail, it's very inspiring. Bonne continuation à vous!
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GardeningGirl, United Kingdom
One of my favourite books of all time.
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taledo, United States of America
Caught the movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins which made me want to read the book. Loved it and the follow up book when she was able to get to England.
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suerae, United States of America
I’ve been a fan for years! Love to reread 84 every few years! You all might be interested in a couple of her other books - Letters From New York and Q’s Legacy (a book about her mentor). Someday, I hope to visit England and spend some time on Charing Cross Rd. Thanks for your great review!
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marydewlee, United States of America
I just read 84... last month! Delightful! This is my first time reading your blog so I'm not sure on protocol, but one of my all time favorite "mail-related" books is Wallace Stegner's The Angle of Repose. (It's also a favorite because I love the title and all of it's connotations).
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ennasu, Germany
Thank you for reminding me of this book. I entirely enjoyed reading it and now I will fetch it from my bookcase and read it again. The perfect read for autumn!
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Brigi, Hungary
I love this book so much, it made my cry quite a bit. :o) And the film is delightful as well.
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Topas, Germany
this book lies in the pile with others on my bedside table. I'm curious now and will read it next.
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echo0928, China
I've read this book a lot of times, and it’s really a nice book which makes me feel warmth and love.
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Chenoah, Germany
I've just ordered it on medimops, a german second hand online store. Ordered some postcards with it, *sigh*
Definitely Postcrossing addict behaviour.
Thanks for the cool recommendation.
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alterego, Canada
This is one of my all-time favourite books. This and its sequel, *The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street*, were combined to make the film, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. You could not have found more perfect actors to play these parts and this is one of the few movie adaptations, in my opinion, that honour and do justice to the books. There is a third book, *Q's Legacy*, in which Helene Hanff tells the story of how she came to write the first 2 books.

Another book I read with this theme that I really enjoyed is called *Foreign Correspondence* by Geraldine Brooks. She usually writes fiction but this is non-fiction. I really love her writing.
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alison41, South Africa
I read the book years ago, and loved it. In this age of e-mail and Twitter, letter writing is a dying art ... more's the pity. I always enjoyed receiving letters and for many years had many penfriends. I would classify 84 Charing Cross Road as a classic. I must find a copy and read it again.
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shiguzman, Costa Rica
Lovely book!!
During this horrible covid time, I saw Anne Bancroft in that old movie and I immediately thought: There she is!!
So I went back to Helene Hanff books and they made me happy!!
I highly recommend the books.
Thank you shanaqui for your post ♥
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calzunt, United States of America
I saw the film and it was delightful. Have always meant to read the book. Thank you for the reminder.
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BeckyS, United States of America
I just ordered a copy. :)
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teamug, Germany
You all mentioned books that definitely end up on my reading list.

I also have a recommendation:
"Celebrated Letters of John B. Keane" (there are two volumes)
I love Irish humour and read a lot of books from the Irish west coast.

These collections feature volumes such as:
Letters of a Love Hungry Farmer; Letters of a Matchmaker; Letters of a Civil Guard, Letters of an Irish Publican and Letters of a Country Postman.

"In them we find many evocations of rural Ireland, with interesting characters, gossip and malice".
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JohnWB, United Kingdom
A wonderful book and story.
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JSchulz, Australia
Thank you for the reminder, I loved this book and read it first when I was in my teens way too long ago I read it again a few years ago and it was just as good. I also read The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and you are right it is a good "Tidy Up" for those of us who prefer a happier ending.
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ursula64, Canada
i loved this book and the movie. i have not thought about it in years. i think i am going to look it up and reread and rewatch the movie if i can find it.
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-Cool-, Philippines
an epistolary (fiction) novel that I surprisingly enjoyed is "Incendiary" by Chris Cleave!
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NickCB, United Kingdom
I also know and love the book. I’ve been to the shop in London, not a shadow of its former self.
There was a stage play as well which I saw in London starring Judy Dench and a made for TV film with Frank Finley. All of it brilliant
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Kayla221B, Canada
I will have to find this too - just in time for winter "reading season"! I will also add a vote for Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine books that was recommended for blog review in the previous book review blog comments :)
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princesspamf, United States of America
Just borrowed and downloaded the audio version from Hoopla, a digital source offered through our public library. Listened while I knitted for an hour today...totally hooked!
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sharifah, Brunei
wow....i guess im gonna include this book in my 'to buy' list for new year then. If i cant travel to search for this book, i will order it and let the book travel to me :-)
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hyacinthbucket, United States of America
I loved 84 Charing Cross Road, too! Have read it several times, and the I feel the movie does it justice. Another book you may enjoy, told in the form of letters, is Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn. It is simply wonderful. Do try it.
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Wallaby_Whisperer, Australia
I will buck the trend here. Hanff’s writing - though her use of the English language is beyond excellent as is Dorothy Sayers - in 84Charing Cross Road she put her prodigious talents to present the reader with a cloying saccharine sweet story which is both a tad boring and predictable and in the end, a book for me not to re-read.
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jaxs, United States of America
Have you read "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"? Also a book written as a series of letters.
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
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Fluidity, United States of America
I read this cute book not too long ago...the greatest !!!
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kpainter, United Kingdom
For anyone looking to buy a copy of this wonderful book, Slightly Foxed produce a lovely hardback version (including The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street). It's a little pricey compared to the standard paperback but worth it if you like a quality, hand finished hardback!
https://foxedquarterly.com/shop/helene-hanff-84-charing-cross-road-plain-foxed-edition/
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dharmageek, United States of America
Going Postal is an excellent book and I recommend it for your next read.
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Qingshun, China
This is my favorite book from childhood to adulthood
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SueAn, United States of America
I read this book at least once a year. I love the friendship developed through letters. So delightful.
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Germanuccia, Italy
I haven't read the book but I watched the movie, beautiful. I'll look for the book in the library.
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Redhatpat, United States of America
If you can watch Hallmark movies Write Before Christmas. Jessica sends Christmas cards to those special to her. It makes you think of people that have been special in your life.
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