This is a book of letters. It contains a 20 year correspondence (1949-1969) between Helene Haff, an American freelance writer and Marks & Co., a book store on 84, Charing Cross Road at London. The author’s love for books and especially out-of-print books makes her respond to an ad placed by Marks & Co in a literary magazine. Her first letter requesting a set of books gets a prompt response from the book store and that’s how a 20 year correspondence starts.
These letters also capture the political milieu of the two countries around that time. In London, around 1950’s, the food was rationed out to 2 ounces of meat per family per week and one egg per person per month. Helen magnanimously sends a 6 pound ham from her savings and this simple act breaks the ice between the Marks & Co. staff and Helen.
With every letter going back and forth Helen and various staff members start sharing their lives. Helen’s “request for book” letters start morphing in to a more “Here’s what I am feeling now, I need some thing to read” type of letters. Even though most of Helen’s requests are handled by Frank Doel at the book store, the entire staff is fascinated by this unusual customer. Some of them secretly write letters so that they are not restrained by the formalism of an official communication. This short book of ~100 pages captures a gamut of emotions that sweep through anyone’s life. Set in a context of faceless communication, a lot more is left to the imagination of the reader and that makes this book a classic to treasure.