Publisher: Peirene Press
First Published: 1986 in French; 15th June 2015 in English
Date Reviewed: 8th June 2015
Original language: French
Original title: La Lectrice (The Reader)
Translated by: Adriana Hunter
Marie-Constance has a nice speaking voice. She puts an advert in the paper, offering her services as a reader. She takes on her first three clients: wheelchair user, Eric, a 14 year old coddled by his mother; a widowed countess who may be old but will not be beaten; a managing director who wants to be able to impress at dinners but has no time to read. And it seems these people need her and need books more than she expected.
Reader For Hire is an exploratory novella that looks at the power of people in the context of the power of books, of reading. Open to interpretation, it offers a simple character-driven narrative and plenty of pleasurable reading moments.
There are many elements to this book. One: it’s a book about book. The chapters are full of quotations, mini analysis and odes to reading. Marie-Constance favours classics but there are other sorts of work. Make no mistake, you’ll be adding titles to your wishlist.
The biggest, or strongest, element, is power. The power of reading, what it can do and make you feel, how it expands the mind and can inform an opinion (that may lead to action). Be it Marie-Constance’s voice and manner of delivery or simple just the text, the books have an impact on the listeners. One ends up in hospital, another supporting a strike, and there’s the almost inevitable person who hires Marie-Constance but is more interested in the bedroom. (On this subject Jean asks us to consider further – is it stereotypical perversion or is it specifically to do with the reading?) The readings open minds. It gives the listeners a small voice where they’ve not had one for a while.
It could be said that Marie-Constance is the one with the power. She tends to choose the texts, and she chooses how to deliver them. It’s her presence in her listeners’ lives that changes them. And those who are listened to by society want to listen in return, to set reading on a literal stage and admire it.
It’s also her role as a reader that lands people in trouble. These troubles push her and in some cases her listeners, to re-think, to push a little harder for what they want – unconsciously. There is a place to interpret the book as being about subjugation. Listeners and Marie-Constance are pushed back. It seems that in educating themselves, thinking for themselves further than others may wish them to, they end up in trouble. Marie-Constance has to explain herself on various occasions – she’s just reading, isn’t she?
Reader For Hire asks you to enjoy reading but always question it, study its effect; to look at books and reading in a set few ways, to see the meaning in Marie-Constance herself.
At once simple and complex, this book about books is satisfactory in itself but will make you want to seek out others. By this time it’s likely Marie-Constance is booked until Christmas so it’s a good thing her story is available to all.
I received this book for review from the publisher.
June 11, 2015, 5:31 am
This sounds really fascinating, Charlie. You’ve got me curious about this one.
July 20, 2015, 1:50 pm
Literary Feline: Yes; it is fascinating in its own way. Very literary in that sense of a story that’s okay but it’s everything else about it that’s the wonder.