The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault

Peculiar postmanThis is a novel whose plot revolves on a habit which is fast disappearing. In an age of instant communications via phone, text messages, social media and emails, few people it seems write letters to each other any longer.

Montreal postman Bilodo mourns their demise and not simply because this is a trend that threatens his job (he would after all have plenty of marketing leaflets still to deliver). His sadness stems from the fact he believes “ real letters” are more thoughtful and show more of human character.  Letter writers to him are people who prefer ” the sensual act of writing by hand, the delightfully languorous anticipation of the reply, to the reptilian coldness of the keyboard and instantaneity of the Internet – people for whom the act of writing was a deliberate choice and in some cases, one sensed, a matter of principle, a stand taken in favour of a lifestyle not quite so determined by the race against time and the obligation to perform.”

So keen is he on this form of correspondence this shy and unassuming man has got into the habit of steaming open letters he intercepts during his shift. Of all the letters he looks forward to reading, he reserves particular affection for those in the form of poems from Ségolène, a young teacher living in Guadeloupe. Since Bilodo has access only to Ségolène’s side of the conversation he has to imagine how the recipient, a Montreal academic called to Gaston Grandpré would respond. At first he doesn’t understand their poems but as he learns how they are written in the Japanese form of Haiku, his appreciation deepens. He  finds himself falling in love not simply with the poems but with Ségolène herself.

In a twist of fate Grandpré is run over while attempting to post his latest haiku and dies at Bilodo’s feet. Rather than lose all contact with Ségolène, Bilodo decides to take on the dead man’s identity and to become a poet himself to ensure the long-distance relationship continues. As his poetic skills blossom, the haikus become more personal and bring a new sense of purpose to Bilodo’s life. Will Bilodo find happiness with a woman he has never seen or will his fraud be revealed and his world crash about his ears?  Denis Thériault cleverly sends his readers down a few garden paths before springing a surprise surreal ending.

At first I thought I would find the story rather too playful but that all changed after Grandpre’s death where the narrative took on more of a disturbing quality. What starts as a tale of a lonely man’s search for love becomes more of a fable about the dangers of losing your sense of who you really are. Some critics have compared Thériault’s work to that of Murakami and Julian Barnes. I am not familiar enough with either of these authors to judge. But it’s clear from this little novella that Thériault can pack a lot into a small space.

Well worth reading.

End Notes

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault was published in French as Facteur émotif in 2005

Translation by Liedewy Hawke

Published in UK by Hesperus Press 2014

 

 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on April 17, 2016, in Book Reviews, Canadq and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I read the book a few days ago and it suprised me!
    A good friend of mine recommended it, but I didn’t thought I would like it that much. 🙂

    Amazing review!

    P.S: I’m sorry for my english – my mother tongue is German.

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  2. I would not have found the Postman without your review and thanks for not revealing the ending. Having read both Barnes and Murakami, I can relate the stories, especially Julian Barnes.
    I looked for other books by this author but could only find one?
    I will be adding my short review soon, but thanks for yours – inspired me to find the book.

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  3. This book does sound absolutely fascinating from a conceptual point of view – I can see why you wondered if it was a little whimsical, glad to see it delivered (pardon the pun) a real punch though – I will be keeping my eyes open for this one.

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  4. I heard her speak at a conference in California – very well spoken. But I have not yet met her characters through her books. Your post is motivating me to get her books. Thanks.

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  5. I’ve heard very good things about this series of novels as well – it seems as though they capture a real sense and feel for the setting in Quebec. I’ll have to keep an eye out for the first one as it sounds as though it’s best to start at the beginning.

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  6. piningforthewest

    I love this series and can’t wait for the latest one to come out. I agree that you have to read them in order as characters develop and often there are links back to earlier books.

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  7. I’ve only read the first so far but really loved it. Funny enough, I was thinking of reading book two today. I’m glad to hear you like the series too.

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  8. As it so happens, I am reading this book now. It has been a while since I finished the first one, but I knew I had to read more. Gamache is the kind of character that keeps me reading a book and a series. His bumbling approach and his cozy friendliness…the way he pays attention to those around him: these qualities all reel me in. I couldn’t wait until he made his first appearance in this one.

    Great quote! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  9. I’ve been looking at this series for a long time and over the years I’ve picked up several of the titles used. I’ll have to start the first one at some point before the series becomes to long, it becomes too daunting to start.

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