The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault

Denis Thériault is a French Canadian novelist. This is his first work translated into English. It concerns the fortunes of the titular postman (Bilodo) who lives an isolated though quite structured existence in Montreal.

He has a secret emotional life however as he clandestinely steams open selected letters and reads their contents before delivering them. This becomes a kind of serial drama for him. In particular though he is taken by a correspondence made entirely through poetry by a woman from Guadeloupe (Ségolène) and a bearded recluse in the neighbourhood. In his imagination he falls in love with this woman. In reality he is shy and apathetic about approaching other women and shuns the efforts of his friend Robert to bring him to garish nightclubs.

Events take a turn when the bearded poet is run down and Bilodo fears this is the end of his imaginary love life. He decides however to try to inhabit the personality of the now dead poet and discovers the medium of their correspondence was the haiku- a Japanese form of short poetry characterised by its relation to nature and eternity. A tender correspondence ensues for Bilodo. I won’t spoil the tale by relating what happens next, but I found this short novel wonderfully engaging. Its prose is highly lyrical and the haiku and explanation of its art was very informative about something I never really understood.

The author gives the story a comical gloss, though in some respects its themes are serious and quite contemporary. For instance, more of us are isolated like Bilodo and live to some extent in virtual worlds. Although Bilodo in his acts of indiscretion may seem creepy and we may initially condemn him, he is in fact quite idealistic. We aren’t given much background to his character but in some ways we can imagine he is isolated because he finds much around him, such as his friend Robert, to be too crude. He is sensitive to beauty and has an artistic side as evidenced in his interest in calligraphy. He’s a complex character and I found him quite sympathetic overall. This is a short novel but a real gem which dazzles the reader in its eloquent expression. A short Q & A with the author is added and the author talks of a sequel, which I for one, would eagerly anticipate.

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