I received an advanced review copy of this title from Peirene Press. This novella was first published in French in 1986 as La Lectrice and has been translated into this English version by Adriana Hunter.
Marie-Constance is looking for some kind of occupation to fill her time; even though she never finished her university degree, she loves literature and decides she will hire herself out to strangers for reading sessions. When she puts an ad in the local newspaper offering her services, the editor is skeptical and warns her that people might get other ideas about what she is offering.
The novella almost reads like a series of short stories as Marie-Constance meets and reads to a very different and interesting cast of characters. Her first client is a disabled teenager who goes into an epileptic fit when Marie reads him Maupassant’s short story The Hand. After this traumatic experience, she decides that poetry might be a better choice for him and as she reads to him he seems to be emotionally and physically moved not only by her reading choices but also by her voice.
Marie-Constance also takes on an old woman who is a Hungarian countess that was married to a former French general. The countess still staunchly clings to her communist roots and has Marie read to her from the tomes of Marx. The old woman also tries to participate in the local unions attempts at a rally by waving her communist flag out her bedroom window.
The men who hire Marie for her services are the most interesting characters in the book. On the surface, they all want to better themselves by learning more about literature. But as Marie’s voice lulls them into feelings of peace and tranquility, their other manly senses seems to kick in as well. The final scene in the book is hilarious and Marie learns that the editor at the newspaper might have been right after all about what her listeners are expecting from her services.
This is a clever, funny, unique and interesting novella from Peirene Press. This is the perfect title to bring with you to the beach for a quick, delightful read.
About The Author and Translator:
Raymond Jean (1925–2012) wrote more than 40 books during his lifetime – novels, short-story collections and essays. He was awarded the Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle in 1983. His novella La Lectrice (Reader for Hire) became a cinema hit starring Miou-Miou. The film won the César Award for Best Supporting Actor and was named the best feature at the 1988 Montreal World Film Festival.
Adriana Hunter has translated over 50 books from French, including works by Agnès Desarthe, Véronique Ovalde and Hervé Le Tellier. She has already translated for Peirene, Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi, for which she won the 2011 Scott Moncrieff Prize, and Under The Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda. Adriana has been short-listed twice for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
7 responses to “Review: Reader for Hire by Raymond Jean”
I love what Peirene Press do – they seem to pick such a diverse range of novellas. Reader for Hire sounds quite different to some of their other, darker titles (which is no bad thing). I like the idea that it reads a little like a series of short stories or vignettes – as you say, perfect for summer.
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I just discovered Peirene recently and really like the ones I’ve read so far… Like Jacqui the structure to this one heightens the appeal. It’s on my shopping list for next book spree.
The choices Peirene Press make are excellent for reading outside what we might ordinarily encounter, I love them all for this, they always offer something completely different and thought provoking. I wish I’d found the ending funny, I couldn’t, the realisation was deflating.
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I found the hyperbole, irony and her very quick exit to be funny. It also brought back the scene with the newspaper editor who was right about what might happen with her ad.
Amazing so many more to come after this one I enjoyed it and as Jacqui said was a change to some of there other titles
I think the third book in this installment is coming up in the fall. Peirene was tweeting pics of it, can’t wait to read it!
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Yes they do three to the theme each year