Helene does it again.
22 September 2009
After struggling through Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs this weekend, I decided I deserved a little treat, so off I went to the library to get the one Helene Hanff book I hadn't yet read: Q's Legacy.
84, Charing Cross Road (containing her decades-long correspondence with the British used bookstore Marks & Co, and in particular one of its employees, Frank Doel) and the follow-up title The Duchess of Bloomsbury, in which she recounted her trip to London after the publication of 84. Q's Legacy is kind of a follow-up to the follow-up, in which she explains how she gave herself her own classics and English literature education by reading the lectures of a man named Arthur Quiller-Couch, a professor of English Lit at Cambridge. She also describes her early life in the theatre (you have to say it to yourself, "thea-tah," like I'm doing), her travails trying to find and keep affordable apartments in New York City, and how she came to be writing letters to Marks & Co in the first place. The latter part of the book is taken up with the details of several trips she took to London (after the one described in The Duchess of Bloomsbury), including the one to see the opening of a play based on her book.
Oh, and it's wonderful. It's vintage Helene. She's still full of snappy opinions and surprisingly gentle insights, and if you're interested in London, you get to hear even more about the city here. You also get to learn a bit more about Helene's life (although never enough, frankly), including her stint in secretarial school, where she corrected a teacher's grammar and was taken under the wing of the most popular girl there because of it. It also describes the fan mail and phone calls she got after the publication of 84 (one woman called and said simply, "We can talk as long as you're willing. The phone call is my husband's fortieth birthday present to me. He knew it was the one thing I wanted."). But mainly, it is all Helene, such as when she describes her cataract surgery:
"Fact One: Cataract surgery is simple, painless and (except with implants) risk-free; sight is easily restored by cataract spectacles, contact lenses or implants; the whole procedures is common, routine and nothing to worry about.
Fact Two: Fact One applies only to cataracts on the eyes in somebody else's head." (p. 139.)
It was just what I needed. When you need a treat, or a pick-me-up, or just another dose of Helene, go get this book.