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A Diversion

I got home finally, but two days late. At Paris Charles de Gaulle, the gate agent informed me that my connecting flight out of Heathrow was overbooked. I only thought about it for two seconds and I accepted BA’s offer to catch a homeward bound flight on a later date. The airline comped the hotel and offered reimbursement, in cash, for the inconvenience that cost me, which is practically none. It’s the 4th of July long weekend back in the States and I’m in no hurry to be home. Why not take a diversion in London? So, upon landing in Heathrow, I went straight to Piccadilly Circus to settle down (once again) the bags. Taking advantage of the sunny weather I hopped on the Eye and enjoyed the view. Just a little short of the pinnacle it occurred to me that I should pay a visit to 84 Charing Cross Road and see what has become of that historical location. Sadly the building that used to house Marks & Co had been torn down. Number 84, Charing Cross Road is now a chain pizza restaurant. A marble stone plate is set in place to commemorate the bookstore’s existence: The Bookseller Marks & Co were on this site which became world renowned through the book by Helene Hanff. That’s a consolation. Charring Cross Road itself is no short of books establishments. The northern section between Cambridge Circus and Oxford Street includes more generalist bookshops such as the venerable Foyles and Blackwell’s.

The Blackwell’s on Charing Cross focuses on academic books, but it has a good fiction/literature section. It’s here that I acquired Kate Morton’s two novels after The House at Riverton, which I started on the short flight from Paris. Added to the Paris haul are The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours. The debut itself is quite riveting, although exactly the first third of it is slow. Despite the stellar reviews, I have avoided this book for so long because over-popularity is often a bad portent to me. The whole time I was reading this I could only think about how much it reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale. It vaguely echoes The Glass of Time by Michael Cox but it lacks the polished style of Cox’s prose. It’s slightly more casual. But nonetheless the story is engaging. The truths and lies are revealed slowly and sometimes quite subtly, reflecting the senility of the 98-years-old narrator, Grace, who once worked in the House of Riverton. A full review should be up soon, but I doubt it can do justice for the book because there are many such hidden truths and subterfuges in this novel as there are characters. I do feel that the book kicks off the mood for summer reading—books loaded with twists and turns that shall take my breath away.


8 Responses

  1. I like the genre title you gave this one…Guy Lit..makes me want to read it!

  2. Sounds like a wonderful book that even a woman might enjoy! 🙂

  3. Wikipedia states 84 Charing Cross St. still stands and, while not a bookstore, is not a Pizza Hut but part of a restaurant, notwithstanding American confusion w/ street numbering.

  4. What a piece of luck. How appropriate (and wonderful) to think of you standing at 84 Charing Cross Road. A wonderful book and movie.

    • I think the airline singled me out because I was traveling all by myself and the effect upon change of itinerary would not be as pronounced. This is not the first time I am bumped out of a flight to make way for other (group) travelers. It happened to me twice on flights to Hong Kong. I’m more than happy to stay extra day or two as long as the cost is covered.

  5. I sure wish my trips wound up with diversions like this more often! I never seem to be one of those lucky people while flying who get extended trips that are paid for by the airline!

    • For some reason that I don’t want to jinx, airlines always pick me for these offers. Maybe because I always travel by myself and the needs of a single traveler is easier to accommodate. I think the level of frequent-flyer membership also helps. 🙂

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