In her follow up volume to “84, Charing Cross Road“, Hanff takes you on a ride through her adventures in London in “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.” After 20 years of corresponding with the Doel family and a burning desire to visit London, Hanff finally cashes in on her worldwide popularity with the publication of “84” and, at age 55 in 1971, decides to walk the streets of a city that was the source of her fantasies… and success.
Following some similar formats in the way of letters, Hanff captures her trip in a journal encased in amazingly detailed descriptions of London’s citywide layout. Personally, as I read this, I wish I had an atlas or Google Maps to virtually share her travels. Helene Hanff has a very distinct personality of an American from New York and her neurotic behavior is cleverly comical as she attends book tour commitments throughout London. With new characters like the Colonel (someone who might be described as a groupie, or a stalker) and the management team of her London based publisher Andre Deutsch who wrangle her through her tour, you also get to meet, as Hanff did, Nora and Sheila Doel… the family of Frank Doel, who was the other half of Helene’s charming 20-year-long letter communications to London’s Marks and Co. Booksellers in “84”.
This follow up has much of the same charm and character as its predecessor and, as before, it showcases a wonderful older generation of class and style with it. Hanff’s encounters with the British lifestyle she’s always envisioned are endearing and highlights what expectations do to someone who takes on her dreams in midlife. A fun and heartwarming ride with Helene through London in the 70s will make you often laugh. While it could be read on its own, I highly encourage reading “84, Charing Cross Road” to truly appreciate all that went into the need for this follow up book. If you like the storytelling of folks like Nora Ephron, you’ll love Helene Hanff.