The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

Monday, November 19, 2012


The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
by Helene Hanff
★★★★★

When I read 84, Charing Cross Road in 2009 I was completely in love with it. Helene Hanff’s first book is a collection of letters between herself and the British bookseller, Frank Doel. For years the two wrote back and forth, never meeting in person but sharing a deep love of literature.

In this sequel Hanff finally had the opportunity to visit London for the first time. Unlike her first book, this one is written in journal form as she chronicles her time there. Her quick wit and acerbic nature make the whole thing so much fun. The nonfiction account hit a soft spot for me. I’m such an anglophile that when she describes her lifelong desire to visit London (see below) it was like I was reading my own thoughts.

“All my life I’ve wanted to see London. I used to go to English movies just to look at streets with houses like those. Staring at the screen in a dark theatre, I wanted to walk down those streets so badly it gnawed at me like hunger. Sometimes, at home in the evening, reading a casual description of London, I’d put the book down suddenly, engulfed by a wave of longing that was like homesickness. I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die. I used to tell myself this was natural in a writer and booklover born to the language of Shakespeare.”

I felt the need to visit London from a young age. I just always knew that one day I would go. When I was 19 I planned my first trip to Europe, hopped on a plane by myself and met a friend in London. During that trip I visited Bath, Windsor and London, and then traveled to Ireland and explored Dublin and some coastal towns. It was absolutely everything I imagined it would be. Seeing poets corner in Westminster Abbey, Twelfth Night performed at the Globe, dinner in a pub, etc. I loved everything about it. Later I moved there for a few months to do a semester abroad and my love of London grew ten-fold.

Hanff’s experience was similar to my own (except she was a bit of a celebrity because of her first book). She was in awe of everything see saw and all she wished for was more time. She made friends along the way, pinching every penny so she could spend just one more day in her beloved city.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved it so much! If you’re an anglophile or you loved 84, Charing Cross Road don’t miss this one!

“I seem to be living in a state of deep hypnosis, every time I mail a postcard home I could use Euphoria for a return address.”


p.s. Hanff wanted to personalize every book she signed and at one point she has to sign a stack of books for a bookseller to take to his shop and she said…

“I still couldn’t bring myself just to write my name and let it go at that, it seems unfriendly. Wrote “To an unknown booklover” in every copy.”


I wish so badly that I could get a signed copy of this book!

Photo by moi.

12 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

Oh I LOVED Charing Cross Road, and wanted to just weep when she didn't make it over there in time. I'm going to have to read this one. I had a 6 to 8 week work assignment in London, back when I was first married. While I missed my husband, my colleagues and I made hay that is for sure. We saw everything we could while sort of pretending to work.

Mystica said...

I loved Charing Cross Road myself and would love to get hold of this one.

annieb said...

I have a copy of both of these and love them a lot. I also love the movie of 84 Charing Cross Road with Anne Bancroft, who was one of my favorite actors.

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

I read a one-volume edition with both this and 84, Charing Cross Road and I honestly can't decide which one I loved the most. Hanff is such a pleasure to spend time with.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I did the same thing when I was in London. I went to so many museums and plays, I was in heaven. This book reminded me of that time and I just loved it.

Mystica - I was so glad it lived up to the first one!

annieb - I thought the movie was wonderful too! Anythony Hopkins was the perfect opposite to Bancroft's fiesty character.

Ana - She really is. I was worried I wouldn't love this one as much, but they're both so delightful.

Jenny said...

It made me so sad that Hanff never got to meet Frank Doel. It was wonderful that she got to go to London at last, and her experiences there were so much like my first time in London (except the parts where she was a known author, except for those parts).

Bybee said...

I have a recurring dream that I have a 4 hour layover in London and I'm striking out to see the city. I'm ecstatic, but dreadfully aware of the clock ticking, ticking, ticking.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Oh dear. Just reading your review has absolutely longing to return to London! I went for the first time with my family in 2007, fell in L-O-V-E, and then returned to see a friend there in 2009... and went again last year. Eh, I'm obsessed. And it sounds like I'm definitely going to have to get this book!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenny - I was so sad about that too. I wish she'd been able to go sooner, but at least she met his wife and daughter.

Bybee - Ha, that is both awesome and terrifying at the same time!

Meg - You'll love it! I'm the same way, I just can't get enough of the city.

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I read this quite awhile ago but from memory I felt a bit 'meh'(shrugs shoulders) about it. Glad you enjoyed it!

Kailana said...

I really liked this book, too!!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Becky - I think that one of the reasons I loved it so much was because it reminded me of my own experience in London. It's not a very objective view I suppose.