review by Maryom
Marie-Constance has a beautiful voice and time on her hands, so she puts an advert in the paper and sets herself up as a reader for hire. She's rather surprised in these days of audio-books to find that there's a demand for her services but she quickly finds clients; a disabled teenager, an elderly widowed countess, a company director, an eight year old girl, a retired magistrate.
At first it seems like Marie-Constance's new career could end in disaster - the teenage boy is so carried away by her reading of a supernatural tale by Maupassant that he has to be rushed to hospital - but she realises that what is happening is that, by immersing themselves in her reading, her listeners are starting to re-engage with the world. As Marie-Constance reads her way through Baudelaire, Marx, Lewis Carroll and the Marquis de Sade she re-awakens thoughts of forgotten things - politics, sex or just going out and having fun.
Marie-Constance is a harder person to understand than her clients; she's
rather lacking in personality, adapting herself to fit her listener,
like a blank page waiting for words.
I hope Peirene won't mind me saying this, but this is an unusual book for them as it's rather funny. Marie-Constance's desire for something to occupy her time leads to a series of misadventures almost farcical at times; who would have thought that a little reading would lead to so much trouble with the police? - but it does for Marie-Constance as she's dragged along in the wake of her clients and their new found enthusiasms.
At the same time it has much to say about the relationship between reader and book - the way stories can unlock feelings within us, enable us to see ourselves and others differently, that reading isn't always an emotionally passive activity. This was a particularly interesting book to read shortly after hearing Jane Davis talk about The Reader Organisation - a movement she established which encourages shared reading as a way of working through difficulties, showing through literature that our problems - from relationships to finance - are not as unique as we think.
translated from the French original by Adriana Hunter
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult Translated Fiction