The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Hesperus Nova, 2014
ISBN: 9781843915362, 108 pages
Bilodo is, as the title suggests, a lonely postman living in Montreal. He’s an introverted, quiet man who delivers mail by day, returning to his lonely and empty apartment at night. Despite the monotony of his life, he’s found a way to break the cycle. He pockets personal letters and steams open the envelope in his kitchen at night, reading the contents. The letters do eventually find their way to their intended recipients, albeit a few days late. It is during one of these intercepted letters where Bilodo first comes across Ségolène’s letters to Gaston. Their letters, an exchange of haikus, excites Bilodo as he wedges himself into their world as an invisible interloper. During one of his delivery rounds, he witnesses a horrific accident, where Gaston is struck by a car on his way to deliver a letter to Ségolène. From here, Bilodo’s world takes an unexpected twist as he finds himself that much closer to Ségolène.
This short novella is quite peculiar, as the title states. The postman, Bilodo is a creeper who steals personal letters to steam open and read at night after his shift. The book is a tragic love story with elements of fantasy. It’s more psychological than anything although we don’t really get into Bilodo’s head. I wish the story was told from his point of view rather than a 3rd person narrator. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel sympathy for him or see his downfall as a warning. It’s a bit shallow on that end. It could have been a better novella with a bit more depth and introspection into Bilodo’s fragmented sense of sense and his deteriorating sense of life. Maybe this was lost in the translation? There were also a lot of little details that were left unanswered. How does he afford to keep two apartments with one postman’s salary? How does he suddenly learn to write haikus just by putting on a kimono? How does he go two years without anyone noticing their mail being tampered with? I have more questions. The fantasy elements were too subtle, I couldn’t suspend reality to accept its overlay throughout the novella.
At times, it felt like the book was more about poetry than about people. In those instances, I was reminded of another novella about a postman. Il Postino, The Postman. Set in Italy, this is the story of a humble and sweet postman who learns how to write love poetry from the famed Pablo Neruda to win the admiration of a beautiful girl in his village. This is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite books. The love story, the poetry and the tragic ending are heart-breaking and so genuine. If you want a book about a postman and poetry with a love angle, I’d opt for the latter book. If you want a book about a creepy 27-year-old who spies on his neighborhood, go for the first book.