Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Q's Legacy, Helene Hanff

This book was a beautiful idea--which is actually just a twisted way of saying that I was intrigued by my own misconceptions.  From something I'd read, (helped by the subtitle "A Delightful Account of a Lifelong Love Affair with Books") I was under the impression that I was going to get some details about how Helene Hanff (author of the delightful 84 Charing Cross Road) discovered and learned about literature.  

Alas, that was not to be.  Why must Expectations be such a powerful destroyer/maker of dreams?

What Q's Legacy actually is (which is easily discovered, apparently, by reading the back cover or any synopsis on the web you may happen to run into--who knew?) still has its own charm--never fear.  It is a memoir of her career as a writer, for the most part, dipping into her visits to London as well.

While I deeply wished that she and I had spent this read browsing dusty shelves in old libraries, discovering wonderfully obscure yet extremely useful tidbits of information, Helene is a charming person doing perfectly mundane things as well.  In some ways, this book did nothing to satisfy my curiosity about her; in others, I feared that if I knew more she'd become irritating (sad but true...eccentric personalities are called such for a reason, I'm afraid.)  If you've read 84 Charing Cross Road (and if you haven't, you really should!) and it left you wanting to know more about Helene, then this is a perfectly good place to go next.  In fact, it's part of a trilogy about her life, leaving only The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (which I haven't read) in between the two.

So maybe I didn't get what I wanted, but that's hardly Helene's fault.  And besides, it knocked a book off my TBR shelf, so who am I to complain?  Have you enjoyed anything by Helene? Please tell me you loved 84 Charing Cross Road...

My favorite quote--from page 97:  
The whole book was so full of outraged capitals that reading it was like being continuously shouted at. When you finished you were just worn out.


  1. It has been a while since I read this so I may not remember correctly. I thought this was the one where she talks about the reading list from Q that substitutes for the college education that she couldn't have. Since 84 was such a perfect book, it is kind of hard to follow that up as a writer or a reader.

  2. I *did* love Charing Cross Road. It was one of the first books-on-books that I ever read. Haven't read anything else by Hanff, though (yet).

  3. Thomas, she does talk about that a bit in the beginning, but not much. For the most part it was a travel diary/memoir. I completely agree about 84--it was too perfect to outdo. It had me amazed that such a small collection of real letters could make such a wonderfully complete story.

    As the Crowe, I'm not a big memoir person in general, so if I'd actually looked into the book more thoroughly I may not have read it in the first place. I guess I'm also feeling a little bit of 'this is why I don't read series'...it never seems to get better than the first one. Still, going into it with the right expectations (getting to know Hanff & her life more) would make it a much better read.

  4. I really liked Charing Cross Road. I don't think this one would be for me though, and the subtitle is kind of misleading....

  5. Cool! I loved 84 Charing Cross Road and would love to know more about Helene! Glad you brought this one to my attention.

  6. I haven't read this one but yes, I did love 84 Charing Cross Road. Such a delightful story.

  7. Sam, I really was hoping for another book about books, or another little treasure or something. It was interesting, but if it hadn't been such a slim volume I may not have continued with it.

    Andi, see? This could have gone on my new It's Not You, It's Me feature, because I really don't think it was Helene's fault I didn't love it...but then I discovered I had too much to chat about after all. I hope you enjoy it at some point!

    Brenna, it was a charmer, wasn't it? (happy sigh)

  8. Have you seen the film of 84? I actually saw it about 10 times before getting around to the book. They are perfect companions. Identical twins almost.

  9. No I haven't seen it...I've been too afraid that it wouldn't be as wonderful as the book. I'm so glad to know that it is, and love how you described them as twins. :)

  10. I'm adding this to the TBR list. Thanks for the review :) I loved 84 Charing Cross Road. It proved that a rich story can come from a small number of pages.

  11. teacher/learner, I agree! what a rich story! I hope that you enjoy Hanff's continued adventures. :)


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