As a reader, every now and then I like to get out of my comfort zone and go for something a bit less mainstream or something I wouldn’t immediately pick. Translated fiction is a great example of this and I was thrilled to win a Peirene Press competition to win one of their translated novels.
I picked Reader for Hire by Raymond Jean (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) as I had heard good things about it and drawn in by the premise.
Marie-Constance has a beautiful voice and so she advertises her services as a paid reader in the local newspaper. Her first client is a paralysed teenager, who despite his disabilities, is almost transformed by the power of the books she selects for him.
In a short while she gathers a small group of diverse clients who all require her reading talents for very different reasons. They include an elderly yet eccentric former Countess who adores the revolutionary works of Karl Marx, an overworked businessman who has no time to read and a wily young girl for whom she is part reader, part babysitter.
Marie-Constance carefully selects the material for each of her clients and often returns to her old tutor for guidance. In this process, the reader is immersed in a world of literature, and for me, I was exposed to many works and authors I hadn’t heard of. Maupassant comes up a lot and although I’ve never read any, I want to now, if only to get a greater sense of what the characters experience.
It sounds like a simple premise; reader arrives and reads a book, but Marie-Constance’s meetings often have their own drama which was the fun, sometimes darker twist on the story. To me, Marie-Constance was a strange character; an unusual mix of academic yet irresponsible, sensual but reserved and I found her story all the more alluring for it.
I found that the storyline kind of crept up on me and engaged me without me realising it. It ended a little abruptly for my liking, although that may just be because it’s a fairly short book and I wanted more of Marie-Constance’s literary sojourns.
Cosmopolitan described Reader for Hire as “A book that will make you want to read more books” and I don’t think I could have put it better myself. This short yet powerful novel is a wonderful tribute to reading and literature that will make you want to expand your literary horizons all the more.