Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

It is possible I've developed a minor obsession with Helene Hanff. After I reread 84, Charing Cross Road I went and read her Wikipedia article, and discovered she'd written other books. One of them is The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is her diary from her eventual trip to London. I immediately went and ordered it from the library (it's glorious to have the free time to do that with such abandon), and since nobody else seems to know it exists or have any interest in it, it showed up right away.

I got the book home from the library at approximately 6:45 p.m., and read it more or less straight through to 10 o'clock. It's not very long--137 pages--but I didn't mean to do that. I'm already in the middle of three other books, for goodness' sake. But there's something addictive about Helene Hanff's writing.

I think I like her because she's so like me about some things. England, mostly. I'd have slightly different destinations in mind, but I'd be just as undissapointable as she is about the London she's dreamed of seeing. Hopefully I'll make it there sooner in life than she did. Throughout the book, she is sort of cheerfully awed by finding the England of English literature, and cheerfully bemused by all the attention she gets as a result of 84, Charing Cross Road, and she sets it all down in hilarious turns of phrase. She tells the most hilarious stories, too. This is another of those books I am unable to keep from reading aloud. Here's one:
She had a hell of a time in Bloomsbury. The one-way streets here set drivers crazy, you have to go five blocks out of your way to find a street going in the right direction. And she was NOT going to drop me across Shaftsbury Avenue on the wrong corner of Great Russell Street, she would NOT drop me round the corner on Bloomsbury Street, the hotel entrance was on Great Russell and she was By God going to drop me in front of the door. And after zigzagging north and south for half an hour she triumphantly did it and accepted my congratulations graciously. (pg. 59)
If you loved 84, Charing Cross Road, you'll probably enjoy this. Since it's all Ms. Hanff's writing and no letters from the English, there's less of an English voice, but there's a lot of great stories and a lot of peeks at the real world it's often hard to see behind 84. I loved it, and I've just gone and ordered yet another of her books from the library.


Thomas at My Porch said...

I love this book slightly less than like 84, Charing Cross Road. And now thanks to you I know why. It is the missing English voice as you note! I can be kind of dense.

Anonymous said...

I also did a Helene Hanff marathon this year. I disliked _Duchess_, but _84 Charing Cross Road_ will always have a place in my heart. The next book in this loose trilogy is _Q's Legacy_, and it is wonderful. You can see my posts on all of these books on my blog. The essay "On Buying and Not Buying Books" is about Hanff too.


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