Reader For Hire by Raymond Jean (translated by Adriana Hunter)


Young woman available to read to you in your own home. Works of literature, non-fiction, any sort of book you like.

Ever since I distributed novels to the residents of Manor Care for World Book Night 2014, I have thought about reading to people in my retirement. There was such a need for it, such a hunger for not only literature but attention, that I often think about volunteering to read to the infirm when I’m no longer teaching.

In this novel, Marie-Constance follows her friend Francoise’s idea to read to the ill, handicapped, old or single in their own home. And so Marie puts an advertisement in the paper of her small French town to do just that. After all, her husband, Philippe, is “anything but destructive” and does not object to her plan.

Nor does he object to her intimacy with managing director Michel Dautrand, who apparently wants more than a reader now that he is single. In fact, each of the persons to whom Marie Constance reads, seems to want more than simply a reader.

In Marie-Constance’s mind, “A reader should read, and read out loud, whatever is requested.” This is what occurs to her when an elderly magistrate asks her to read the Marquis de Sade; after all, reading “any sort of book you like” is what her advertisement said that she would do.

Furthermore, at the close of the book, she wants to tell Roland Sora, the literature tutor who has advised her on which text to read to which listener, this: “I like to think I’m choosing passages to read, but they’re the ones choosing me. It’s all a very unusual adventure, a misadventure rather, and I’ve had all too much proof of that.”

And so Raymond Jean brings important questions for any of us readers to ponder. How do we choose what it is that we read? Is there a sort of course we follow unwittingly, that the books seem to choose us? And, is there a boundary past which we dare not go especially when reading out loud to someone else?

I loved this book for allowing me to view the inside of another bibliophile’s imagination, both the author’s and the reader’s he created. I loved this book for the titles it presented according to whom was being read aloud to.

For the fifteen year old Eric, a paralyzed spasmodic, Marie-Constance read Guy de Maupassant’s short stories (in particular The Hand). But, Eric also requested Baudelaire, and Francis Ponge’s poem titled Dressing Things Up. For the Hungarian Countess Pazmany, Marie-Constance came bearing Zola’s The Masterpiece, although the elderly woman requested Marx’ Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. To managing director Michel Dautrand, she read Claude Simon’s book Lesson in Dying. And to the properate manager’s daughter, Clorinde, she reads Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 

There is not much that would induce me to pick up Lewis Carroll again, as Tom and I were discussing in our read along of Little, Big. But, I have already downloaded the collection of Maupassant’s short stories which I eagerly anticipate reading this summer. (Perhaps for Paris in July should it come round again. Discussions are already taking place.)

Find more thoughts on Reader For Hire by Claire here.


26 thoughts on “Reader For Hire by Raymond Jean (translated by Adriana Hunter)”

  1. I think it’s a great idea to offer to read to those who wish to continue to benefit from it but for one reason or another can’t and to offer more than audio, with the all important and not to be underestimated human contact.

    I enjoyed the book too for the most part, and I guess the man at the ad agency warns us all at the very beginning not to be naive, so we know where it’s heading. There’s another book in the concept though, one where these connections uplift and have a significant effect on the reader and the recipient, it’s probably more likey to be a book written by someone like Antoine Laurain. 🙂

    Thanks for linking to my review.


    1. It’s so true; the man at the ad agency gives us an indication of not only her naivety, but where this is headed. There’s so much potential for things to wrong, and of course in some instances they do. But, you can tell that others really need her presence in their lives. (I’m specifically thinking of the boy and the countess.)

      I’m not familiar with Antoine Laurain, someone whom I’ll need to look up.

      Thank you for sharing this book with me, in your post and in your comments.


  2. I love what Peirene Press dig up. They seem to find such an interesting and diverse range of novellas, and this one sounds quite different to many of their other titles. I’m intrigued by the premise too. Luckily I have a copy in my ‘to-read’ pile, so I’ll have to bump it up the list. A good one for the summer.


    1. I have only read three Peirene Press publications: The Mussel Feast, The Dead Lake and now Reader for Hire. Each of the novels has been thought-provoking and unique. I can’t imagine them publishing something I wouldn’t enjoy. I’m glad that you have a copy in your stack, although not surprised, and I look forward to your thoughts when you get to it.


  3. I have this sat on my bookshelf awaiting my attention, so will be interested in comparing notes when I’ve finished it. Peirene have an uncanny, nay I’ve heard rumours of a magical/mystical method of divining their literary sources.


    1. I didn’t know there was a film for this novel. Just like Contempt has been made into film, which I’d love to see, the same applies for this book. Thanks for telling me about it.


    1. Really, Lisbeth, i doubt you could go wrong with any book you picked up from Peirene Press. Hopefully they’re more available where you live than they are here in the states. I was so glad that the publisher is willing to send one or two my way!


    1. Are you similar to me, in that as you read of an author in a book you take note of the name? I have compiled whole lists of authors I want to read, and music I want to listen to, while reading a fabulous book. Donna Tartt “showed:” me Arvo Part, the musician; Haruki Murakami is always writing of authors and music I want to know more deeply, and now I have a list from Raymond Jean. In fact, I did download Guy de Maupassant’s short stories on my kindle; why are the classics so cheap? Does no one read them? Well, that’s a topic for a different day…


  4. It’s wall-to-wall Lewis Carroll in the UK at the moment. I like Alice and the whole Oxford history of the book and its inspiration but I’ve never loved it.


    1. I’d love to see all the Lewis Carroll goings on in the UK. Someone posted about a mug from which they were drinking tea, and when the mug cools (or heats, I forget which), the Cheshire cat appears and disappears. How marvelous! I’ve not been a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, but I could stand to revisit her now that I’m an adult. 😉


  5. I think the question of what book we read is interesting. I do feel for sure that some books choose me and arrive at the right time.I know for me that White for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brocke Clarke came at the perfect time. But I also feel that in general a book gives you sense of if you’re ready to read it. I know there are some books I planned on reading after a particular one, but couldn’t because it felt weird. I’ve never heard of this book but it sounds interesting.


    1. What a wonderful comment you’ve left here! First of all, I am unfamiliar with both titles you mentioned, but I thank you for making me aware of them. How serendipitous that they arrived at just the right time! There must be something to the “right book at the right time” for how else can we explain the times when there is no book which appeals? Those reading slumps must come from somewhere! I’m thinking about books choosing us, or us choosing them, for a future post. I haven’t tied all the pieces together in my mind yet. Thank you so much for your thoughts.


    1. You know me, Diane; here today, gone tomorrow. But, I’m glad you like the header. I’m always glad to have Nina Leen’s photograph somewhere on my blog; the woman seems to have become me. Or, vice versa. 😉


  6. This definitely sounds like something I would enjoy. I have been collecting Peirene titles from charity shops ever since I read The Dead Lake for the IFFP longlist. So far I have six more to read 🙂


    1. Oh, I would love to come across Peirene titles anywhere! Surely they’re in Chicago, but in my suburb I’ve never seen one. It wasn’t until I began reading for the IFFP that I even knew they existed! So glad that you have a collection of your own with most of them read.


    1. This is the second book from Peirene Press that I read as well. The first was The Mussel Feast which I adored. Meike has a way of finding the most unusual and special books to publish, doesn’t she? I’m sure that I would like anything from Peirene.


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