Reader for HireRaymond Jean
A beautiful homage to the art of reading – light and funny. A celebration of the union of sensuality and language.
Marie-Constance loves reading and possesses an attractive voice. So, one day she decides to put an ad in the local paper offering her services as a paid reader. Her first client, a paralysed teenager, is transformed by her reading of a Maupassant short story. Marie-Constance’s fame spreads and soon the rich, the creative and the famous clamour for her services.
Why Peirene chose to publish this book:
The premise of the story is brilliant: a woman who loves reading aloud acquires – without realising – power over others. What’s true for her clients becomes real for you, the reader of this book. As you turn the pages, think of Marie-Constance as the personification of ‘reading’ itself. And I promise you an experience you will never forget.
Written by Raymond Jean.
Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter.
Chance Encounter series
176pp, paperback with flaps, £12
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 translated four titles for Peirene: Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi, for which she won the 2011 Scott Moncrieff Prize, Under The Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda, Reader for Hire by Raymond Jean and Her Father’s Daughter by Marie Sizun. Adriana has been short-listed twice for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
‘Reader for Hire might be the perfect book.’ Joanna Walsh, author of Vertigo and Hotel
‘A beautiful love declaration to the art of reading. A book that will make you want to read more books.’ Cosmopolitan
‘A clever, funny, and humane work that champions the power of literature.’ David Mills, Sunday Times
‘An excellent new translation of a novel . . . written with a lightness of touch.’ Harry Ritchie, Daily Mail
‘For the sedentary reader, the solitude can all too easily tip over into loneliness, and from there to a sense that one is missing out on life. If this strikes a chord, inoculate against it with Raymond Jean’s Reader for Hire, a Peirene Press novel designed to be read in a single sitting.’ Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin (authors of The Novel Cure), Independent
Let me introduce myself: Marie-Constance G., thirty-four years old, one husband, no children, no profession. I listened to the sound of my own voice yesterday. It was in the little blue room in our apartment, the one we call the ‘echo chamber’. I recited some verses of Baudelaire I happened to remember. It struck me that my voice was really rather nice. But can we truly hear ourselves?
Funnily enough, when I met up with my friend Francoise last week, she said to me: You have a wonderful voice, it’s silly not to do something with it. A woman really needs an occupation these days… When we were at the Conservatoire you showed such talent… Why don’t you put an ad in the papers offering to read to people in their own homes? Francoise is lovely but she often has these outlandish ideas. As far as she herself is concerned, she has her feet pretty firmly on the ground – she’s a lawyer’s secretary – but that makes her all the more inclined to project a whiff of romance and quirkiness on to other people. And this was certainly a quirky idea: being a private reader – at a time when talking books are readily available – like in the days of duchesses, tsarinas and genteel companions. Oh no, retorted Francoise, not at all. It would be very different nowadays, totally practical and concrete: for people who’re ill, handicapped, old, single. A delightful prospect indeed. But I have to admit the thought of bachelors was entertaining. The idea grew on me.
Now I’m sitting facing the man at the agency who takes the copy for classified ads. He’s chewing on an extinguished cigarette butt beneath his toothbrush moustache, his eyes pinned on me. It’s difficult to put a spark into dead eyes, but he’s having a go. It’s not up to me to give you advice, he says, but if I were you… I wouldn’t run an ad like that… I really wouldn’t… specially not in a town like ours… So I ask him why. He nods his head, heaves a sigh, rereads my piece of paper, which he’s fingering helplessly: ‘Young woman available to read to you in your own home. Works of literature, non-fiction, any sort of book you like.’ Then comes my telephone number. You’ll have trouble… A typist sitting at a nearby table stops every now and then to squirt the contents of a pocket vaporizer into one of her nostrils. She takes these opportunities to watch us furtively, probably listening. He lowers his head and his voice: Believe me, I know my job… I reply tartly: I’m asking you to run the ad, not comment on it. He eyes me in silence, staring, then explains that a lot of newspapers, even the biggest ones, now publish somewhat dubious ads, and that mine could be… misconstrued. He goes back to his chewing and nodding. I tell him there’s nothing dubious about my ad. More squirting from the typist. In that case, he says, you should take out the words ‘Young woman’… And put what instead? He thinks about this, concentrates: And put ‘Person’. Now I’m the one who’s baffled: What do you mean, person? He still has my piece of paper in his hand, and he holds it further from his eyes, as if to get a clearer view of it, the cigarette stub quivering on his bottom lip. Yes, you should put: ‘Person predisposed to read to you in your own home, offers their services, etc.’ You see, ‘person’ is sexless! Slightly dazed, I reply that no one will understand what the ad is about with all that gobbledegook in it. He falls silent, piqued, then says brusquely: All right, if that’s what you want, we’ll run it as it is. After all, it’s up to you. But at least don’t give your telephone number, just have a box number at the newspaper if you want to limit the fallout… Believe me, these ads are my standard fare and there’s nothing standard about what you’re offering… He hands the piece of paper to the typist, not even glancing at her but looking vaguely disgusted, and asks her to type out the text three times for the three local newspapers. Then he picks up a calculator and works out my bill. I write a cheque, stand up and leave. Aware of his gaze lingering on my calves and my heels.
For Reading Groups
Get our brain into action with our questions for reading groups:
1 Marie-Constance addresses the reader throughout the novel. What effect does this have?
2 Reader for Hire is the second book in Peirene’s ‘Chance Encounter: Meeting the Other’ series. What elements of the ‘Chance Encounter’ theme can you find in the novel?
3 Do you think the setting of the novel is important?
4 Are you surprised by Marie-Constance’s decision at the end of the novel?
5 The character Roland Sora often talks of ‘naturalist’ or ‘realist’ novels. How realistic do you think the events of this story are, and does it matter?
6 Reading is a very personal thing. With this in mind, can you see a reason why the warnings Marie-Constance receives about being ‘misinterpreted’ might actually have some bearing?
7 We never gain much insight into Marie-Constance’s relationships or her feelings, despite the first person narrative. Why do you think this is?
8 Meike Ziervogel calls Marie-Constance ‘the personification of reading itself’. To what extent would you agree with this description?
9 Do you think the ending corresponds with or contradicts the novel’s message about the power of literature?
10 She may be the protagonist, but do you feel this is actually a story about Marie-Constance? If no, who or what do you think it is about?
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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