“They don’t understand skyscrapers here. In New York they don’t understand anything else.”
In a direct sequel to 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff finally gets on a plane across the Atlantic and sees the London of her dreams. While there is a certain bittersweet feeling as Important Things have happened to 84 CC Rd and to a crucial character there, and so things are not as they would have been had she visited in the mid-1950s, but nevertheless she is courted around London by publicists and fans alike, and finally gets to see the “England of English literature” she longed to in 84 CC Rd.
The tone is a little different as this is written in diary entries rather than in epistolatory form, and the text does lose something being in one voice, although a sassy and amusing voice. Hanff relishes London – Russell Sq, the Tower of London, St Paul’s, Claridge’s, and even fits in a few trips to Windsor, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Stoke Poges.
Her tone is as sweetly comic as in 84 CC Rd and seeing 1970s London through this Anglophile’s eyes has tempted me to rush around following in her footsteps when I get home to London.
“It always aggravates me, when I’m writing to some telephone-company supervisor or insurance man, to have to begin with ‘Dear Sir’ when he and I both know nobody on earth is less dear to me.”
“Somewhere along the way I came upon a mews with a small sign on the entrance gate address to the passing world. The sign orders flatly:
COMMIT NO NUISANCE
The more you stare at that, the more territory it covers. From dirtying the streets to housebreaking to invading Viet Nam, that covers all the territory there is.”
“I am so tired of being told what a terrible place New York is to live in by people who don’t live there.”
To be read directly after 84 Charing Cross Road. Ideally (as in my case), the two slim books should be in the same volume.