Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reader for hire ~ Raymond Jean

When a friend suggests to Marie-Constance, that as she has a beautiful voice she should offer her services as a reader, Marie mulls this over and comes to the conclusion, that it’s not a bad idea.  Although when she goes to place a small add offering her services as a professional reader – she receives the advice that people, particularly men may misconstrue what she is offering. This turns out to be fairly good advice, but Marie-Constance, sees things differently & wants to proceed with the add placement and her new chosen career.

Through Marie, we meet a cast of characters that have their own agendas and own ideas of what they want from her, from the wheelchair bound teen who’s more interested in her thighs than her reciting Maupassant, to a Hungarian countess who wants to feel like a revolutionary by having Marie read her Karl Marx whilst the servant pours tea.  Then there’s the overworked businessman who would prefer Marie to make love to him, whilst she reads & the magistrate who wants to spend his retirement with the complete works of De Sade read to him by Marie-Constance, of course.

Through reading Marie gains a certain power over her clients although this is a bit of a two-way street because, as a cipher for her clients desires, this is limited to those areas and also creates situations where she has no control leading her into conflict with the local constabulary and a certain officer, who disapproves of what she does & thinks that she is a danger to society.

Reader for Hire was originally published in 1986 as La Lectrice by the French author Raymond Jean, and two years later made into a film directed by Michel Deville, becoming a cinema hit starring famous French actress Miou-Miou. If this wasn't already a film, my suggestion is that it would make a good one, something like a European version of Fifty Shades of Grey”. Something that would capture the sensuality and subtle nuance of this book that would delight in the sexuality of human nature without denigrating it to some puerile level, but that would also show the humour and that ambience that can only be described as “French”. This book is pure comic farce, with the knowing innocence & male fantasy figure of Marie-Constance, then the writer’s placing of her into the various roles called on by the other characters - creating a light-hearted romp that whilst making you smile at each situation she finds herself in, also highlights the power and joy of reading and the inherent wonder of being read to.

Why Peirene chose to publish this book:

'The premise of the story is brilliant: a woman who loves reading aloud acquires – without realizing – power over others. What’s true for her clients becomes real for you, the reader of this book. As you turn the pages, think of Marie-Constance as the personification of ‘reading’ itself. And I promise you an experience you will never forget.' Meike Ziervogel

Raymond Jean:

 (1925–2012) wrote more than 40 books during his lifetime – novels, short-story collections and essays. He was awarded the Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle in 1983. His novella La Lectrice (Reader for Hire) became a cinema hit starring Miou-Miou. The film won the César Award for Best Supporting Actor and was named the best feature at the 1988 Montreal World Film Festival.

Adriana Hunter:

 Has translated over 50 books from French, including works by Agnès Desarthe, Véronique Ovalde and Hervé Le Tellier. She has already translated for Peirene, Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi, for which she won the 2011 Scott Moncrieff Prize, and Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda. Adriana has been short-listed twice for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Peirene Press


Brian Joseph said...

The premise of this one sounds so appealing. The human voice can be so mesmerizing and it seems like this book digs into that concept a bit.

I usually favor reading texts to audiobooks in most cases. However, I am wondering if an audiobook version of this one, read by the right narrator, might itself be mesmerizing.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Brian
I hadn't thought of that, but yes it probably would work, now I'm going to have to think whose voice would fit.

Bellezza said...

While I looked for deeper meaning from the story, I must concur that it is simply a "comic romp" in French style. I so enjoyed the way that Raymond Jean conveyed the life of a reader, even if she was a bit foolish. It makes me think a little bit of Severina, but only in the way that both books contain a female bibliophile with an aura of mystery. I think Severina was my favorite of the two.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Bellezza, It has plenty of depth as you identified, I've read an article which states that it was written with the intent "To debunk literary deconstruction theories of the 1980s". I just chose to highlight the French Farce & that attitude that seemed predominantly "French", that laissez-faire attitude to life for example.

Violet said...

My library has this 'on order', so maybe I'll get to read it next year sometime. :) I like the sound of it and am a bit intrigued by the reference to deconstruction theory. I wonder how Jean uses farcical comedy to debunk deconstruction theory. I need to read it and find out!

Hope you're enjoying the cricket. The Oz guys seem to have forgotten how to bat and bowl. :/

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Violet, most write ups on this highlight the lighthearted nature & the power of reading, but whilst finding out about the author a came across the article stating the authors intent was more than the surface appearance. I personally need to learn more about certain theories floating around the French literary scene at that point to have added it to the post hence the passing comment.

I'm a bit of a cad & a bounder as I don’t support either of the traditional English sports, supporting the more European sport of cycling, making more of a Europhile than is deemed respectable for an Englishman :-)