Adorable, adorable, adorable! I could just repeat that word over and over again to describe how I feel about this wonderful book. It is one of my all-time favourite feel-good reads, guaranteed to put me in a good mood, to make me laugh, to make me feel nostalgic, to make me wish I worked in that bookshop, and also to make me have a lump in my throat sometimes while also being totally charmed and content throughout. What more could you wish for in a book?! Anyone who hasn't yet read this book is just waiting to have their life enhanced by doing so, this is a very special book!
Adorable, adorable, adorable! I could just repeat that word over and over again to describe how I feel about this wonderful book. It is one of my all-time favourite feel-good reads, guaranteed to put me in a good mood, to make me laugh, to make me feel nostalgic, to make me wish I worked in that bookshop, and also to make me have a lump in my throat sometimes while also being totally charmed and content throughout. What more could you wish for in a book?! Anyone who hasn’t yet read this book is just waiting to have their life enhanced by doing so, this is a very special book!
The book is a series of real-life letters between Helene from New York who is a devout reader (clearly she is guaranteed to be a good person!) but who struggles to obtain the books she wants in her home country, and Frank who works in a bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road in London and in a typically dedicated and dogged English manner tracks down the book requests from Helene and posts them to her. Their relationship is wonderful as Frank at first just views Helene as a regular, if demanding, customer, but over time and much correspondence they are exchanging not only book information but details of their lives, and this is further enhanced because they know there is little chance of them meeting and letters are their only contact. The contrast between Frank’s typical English reserved style of writing and Helene’s American exuberant style of writing is a lovely humorous contrast, and his astonishment at her frankness and her coaxing of him to let down his guard is touching and charming and totally addictive to read. Gradually most of the bookshop staff, as well as Frank’s family, become involved in these letters to Helene, and the reader can imagine how this correspondence must surely have become such an important part of all their lives.
I always find it fascinating to read other people’s letters as it seems so intimate and that you are almost secretly and nosily reading their private innermost thoughts. I also love how this book reinforces the value and personalness, as well as nostalgia, of writing and receiving letters, and how texts and emails, etc, just aren’t the same, and I often find I am picking up pen and paper and determinedly writing letters to people after re-reading this book.
The book is charming and touching and gently humorous, and (as stated previously) adorable. There are several wonderful things that stand out for me, namely that all the bookshop staff end up writing to Helene though they conceal this from Frank, the lovely contrast between English and American personalities displayed so beautifully by the tone of their letters with Helene’s being very chatty and funny and gently teasing and Frank’s being quite reserved and professional and serious, the passion for books that they both have and her delight at owning the books she requests and particularly her discovery and admiration of Pride & Prejudice (one of my own favourites), Cecil sending Helene a recipe for Yorkshire Puddings and Helene sending food parcels when food in England is rationed during the war, that Frank’s and Helene’s correspondence gradually changes over time from professional to friendship and that eventually Frank calls Helene by her first name after explaining that copies of letters are kept on file at the bookshop so he had felt it best to maintain a formal tone but eventually begins a letter with “Dear Helene (you see, I don’t care about the files any more)”, Frank’s admirable characteristics of loyalty and steadfastness being demonstrated by the 40 years that he has worked at the bookshop, my envy of his job in the bookshop being surrounded by books and buying ones from libraries in stately homes, that Helene always wishes to visit England but says that she has England there on her bookshelf with her collection of books and how wonderfully true it is that books allow you to enter other countries and worlds and times and to go wherever and whenever you wish all by opening the first page.
I can re-read this book again and again, and often do. Definitely one of the finest books I’ve ever read and I can’t praise it enough.