Reader for Hire – Raymond Jean , (Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“I was absolutely right to accept and harden my heart. A model reader should be a perfectly neutral and biddable instrument. Purely a tool. Purely a voice. Purely transparent. That may well be her limitation, but it may also be her glory. I now feel I’m really getting somewhere with my understanding and implementation of my profession.”

So what if a client wants her to read Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom to him?

Thirty- four year old Marie-Constance needs a vocation, a purpose. She’s married to an indifferent man and didn’t complete her university education. A friend suggested that since she has such an appealing voice, she should read out-loud for people and for pay.

After putting an ad in the newspaper, she receives many responses. Her clients are varied and hire her for different reasons. Among them are an invalid teenage boy, a former countess who requests that she read Marx to her and a managing director who doesn’t have time to read but doesn’t want to look stupid at dinner parties. She often consults with her old professor about the mechanics of her new profession, but we the readers realize that more importantly, she develops a certain amount of influence over her clients.

Reader For Hire celebrates the power of literature through the person of Marie-Constance. Some readers may be turned off by the rather ambivalent tone, but I found that to be a major strength of the book. It gives it depth and dimension. It shows that she is unsure of herself as she enters into awkward situations while at the same time unknowingly exerting power over her clients.

The translated prose is colorful and exquisite. The original novel in French was published in 1986 and I hope to find out if there are other translated novels written by this late author. I recommend this short read for anyone who appreciates beautiful literature.

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