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

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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.