Translated by: Adriana Hunter
Genre: European/Translated Fiction, Literary Fiction
For fans of: Christopher Morley, Milan Kundera
A model reader should be a perfectly neutral and biddable instrument. Purely a tool. Purely a voice. Purely transparent. That may well be her limitation, but it may also be her glory.
Sorry for the delay bookworms! Life has been a little tough over the last few weeks but I’m back with a brand new book review for Peirene Press’ latest release – Raymond Jean’s Reader for Hire. I have to say I’m starting to see a pattern with their publications…they never fail to uncover yet more beautiful writing.
Reader for Hire is a viciously humorous tale of a frustrated woman (Marie-Constance) who decides to take up a career as a “professional reader”. The decision is motivated by her need to escape a life of inertia – whether it be from her impossibly cool husband or her infatuated, jealous old tutor who won’t act on his clearly evident feelings out of respect for their previous teacher/student relationship.
Despite warnings that her newspaper ad might be misunderstood, she resiliently embarks on her first contracts, initially reading to young, bed-bound schoolboy Eric. It quickly becomes apparent that she will have to transcend her role of reader to suit each of her clientele – whether it be an accomplice for an aging political activist or bedfellow to a lonely managing director – and she’ll learn plenty about the art of reading (and herself) along the way.
The Art of Reading
Only good, solid, dense texts really say anything and, more importantly, they speak the truth, they really hook the reader.
Reader for Hire is definitely a book for those who love reading. There are plenty of passages in which Marie-Constance (the reader of the title) discusses the tomes best-suited to her specific clientele with her old university professor Sora. It’s through these clientele that she comes realise the breadth of reading material available to her too – one old woman even has her reading Marxist texts (much to Marie-Constance’s annoyance).
[…] the merits of reading are not as dissimilar to those of lovemaking as he might think.
Raymond Jean is also adept at portraying the importance that the effect of reading – or the role of reader – has on each of Marie-Constance’s clients. All of them are seeking some form of companionship but each is looking for something specific from her readings – whether it’s beauty, education or affection. Reader for Hire depicts perfectly the relationship between reader and book.
The Importance of the Reader
I’m not just a ‘person’, I am becoming someone.
Through her role of reader Marie-Constance discovers a sense of self-worth and a sort of calling in life that previously eluded her due to the luke-warm interest of her husband and her general objectification by the men in her life. By the end of the book you’ll become so engrossed in her journey that you will be just as maddeningly frustrated as she is once you’ve reached the unexpected ending.
As always with Peirene Press publications, this book was unputdownable from start to finish. As a reader, you can’t help but get swept up in Marie-Constance’s internal monologue and there’s definitely something here for everyone to identify with – I know I saw some of my old book snob ways in Sora! Raymond Jean expertly depicts the intimacy of a book and the importance of reading to each individual. If you love books, I guarantee you’ll fall in love with Reader for Hire.
It would also mean that, once or twice a week, he could escape the cruel loneliness of an ageing magistrate cut off from the things of this world but struggling to let go of them, what with books being the last link that can still connect us to the world when we can’t be wholly a part of it ourselves.
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me to review by Peirene Press. All opinions expressed here are my own.