The Helene Hanff Omnibus

Helene Hanff Omnibus - Helene Hanff

This rather hefty tome contains five of Hanff's works: Underfoot in Show Business; 84, Charing Cross Road (the famous one about the bookshop); The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (84's sequel); Apple of My Eye; and Q's Legacy, all non-fiction (she never got the hang of fiction).


Overall, it was a pleasant enough read - light and occasionally quite funny. Hanff's writing is readable, engaging and easy to read, but nothing really beyond that. It gets a little wearing after 500 pages; it just feels a bit insubstantial, a bit inconsequential. Give me a thick novel any day.


Underfoot in Show Business is an account of Hanff's failed attempts to break into playwriting. Interesting mainly for its details about 40s and 50s American showbusiness.


84, Charing Cross Road is a collection of letters between Hanff and the bookshop Marks and Co, Charing Cross Road, London. She sent them food packages during wartime rationing in England; they sent her books. It's charming, but not very substantial.


The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street sees Hanff finally visiting London, after her beloved bookshop has closed down. As an American, she's bewildered by England, which is quite interesting to read.


Apple of My Eye was my favourite: Hanff is commissioned to write the copy for a guidebook to New York and panics when she realises she doesn't know anything a tourist would want to know, despite having lived there practically all her life. She travels around New York seeing the sights with her friend Patsy, also a longtime resident. It's often very funny, if occasionally too heavy on the geography.


Q's Legacy apparently focuses on Hanff's interest in Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Cambridge lecturer whose books she claimed taught her to write. It felt a bit unfocused, covering a trip to London, an experience with cataracts and the play Oklahoma!; I feel like it was the weakest of the five.