Denis Theriault’s The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman surprised me.
Bilodo, a Montreal postman, secretly opens other people’s mail before delivery, and lives vicariously through their hand written letters. When he opens the letters between Ségolène, a young woman in Guadeloupe (a French territory in the Caribbean) and Grandpré, a local professor and poet, he is immediately caught up in the exchange.
Anticipation of the letters offers Bilodo a respite from his dreary life, but when the poet is killed in a car accident, Bilodo despairs. To keep the epistolary exchange going, Bilodo takes a leave of absence from his job as a postman. He assumes Grandpré’s identity, moves into his apartment, and continues to write to Ségolène.
Since the poet has only written in haiku, with Ségolène responding in kind, Bilodo must learn how to write this traditional Japanese poem. At first, his attempts are pedestrian but he improves as the story continues. As the letters fly back and forth, growing more and more ardent, two incidents threaten to interfere in the intrigue and the budding love affair. The first is resolved, but the second was quite a surprise.
The book is short and compelling and the ending is a shock that I did not see coming. Although the book has been compared to work by Julian Barnes (possibly for the strong impact through a short work), the ending reminded me of Kafka.
Originally published in 2008 in Canada, and recently republished by UK’s Hesperus Press, the book is not in my library’s collection. Since the book is a testament to writing actual letters, it seemed ironic I could only find the ebook version.
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman is worth looking for and reading: I enjoyed it. It may inspire you to sit right down and write a letter, as you consider which persona you will use to wield your pen.