“Bilodo lived vicariously. To the dullness of real life he preferred his infinitely more colourful, more thrilling, interior serial drama. And of all the clandestine letters that constituted this fascinating little virtual world, none mobilized or enchanted him more than the ones from Ségolène.”
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault
Published January 1, 2015 by Hesperus Press
Format: e-book; 128 pages
Also By This Author: The Iguana
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My Rating: 4/5
Bilodo lives a solitary daily life, routinely completing his postal rounds every day and returning to his empty Montreal apartment. But he has found a way to break the cycle—Bilodo has taken to stealing people’s mail, steaming open the envelopes, and reading the letters inside. And so it is he comes across Ségolène’s letters. She is corresponding with Gaston, a master poet, and their letters are each composed of only three lines. They are writing each other haikus. The simplicity and elegance of their poems move Bilodo and he begins to fall in love with her. But one day, out on his round, he witnesses a terrible and tragic accident. Just as Gaston is walking up to the post-box to mail his next haiku to Ségolène, he is hit by a car and dies on the side of the road. And so Bilodo makes an extraordinary decision—he will impersonate Gaston and continue to write to Ségolène under this guise. But how long can the deception continue for? Denis Thériault weaves a passionate and elegant tale, comic and tragic with a love story at its heart.
From the moment I saw this book cover I knew that The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman was going to be an interesting novel. It’s a very short book (you can easily read it from cover to cover in one sitting) and I often prefer shorter works because everything is condensed. It’s like a can of soup before you add water to it; the flavor is more intense, the mixture is thicker, and you can’t see straight to the bottom of it until it’s been diluted. Thériault’s novel is like that. Every scene is important and each sentence is filled with beautiful thoughts that can’t be fully realized until you’ve read through the very last page.
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman is a beautifully told story about a very awkward and idealistic postman who lives vicariously through the letters he steals. At first I was hesitant about trusting Bilodo as a narrator. Not only does he steal and read people’s mail, he makes copies of his favorite letters and he’s even fallen in love with one of the writers. However, Bilodo is not a stalker and after a while I realized he isn’t even dangerous; he’s just peculiar. As the novel progresses, Bilodo’s lonely life becomes more and more suspenseful. I felt such a wide range of emotions while reading this book: thrill, confusion, anger, fear, sadness, and even embarrassment.
Although the novel inflicts suspense on the reader, it is not plot-driven. For me, the book became more intense and more suspenseful as Bilodo slowly and irreversibly loses his identity and becomes more detached from society. The deep themes and character development in this novel are what really made me enjoy the book.
Read This Book If…:
…you enjoy poetry (many conversations in this book are told through haiku).
…you like the challenge of reading a book with an unreliable and even unlikable narrator.
…you love short, yet intense and powerful novels.
…you’re a fan of cross-cultural literature (The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman focuses on the languages and cultures of French Canada, Japan, and Guadeloupe).
…you’re longing for a book that speaks to you about love, life, and identity.
“So this was how we departed this world, Bilodo reflected: by accident, without making waves or leaving a lingering trail, like a swallow flashing across the sky, and as quickly forgotten as a squirrel inadvertently run over on the road.”
Even though some people might be “creeped out” by Bilodo, I set those feelings aside so I could better focus on the major themes of the novel. The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman tells the beautifully tragic story of an overly idealistic man. Several instances in this novel made me reflect inwardly about the dangers of being too idealistic, but at the same time the novel as a whole reminded me of the importance of having dreams and wishes. At the end of the novel there is a Q&A with the author, and this is how he described the story of Bilodo:
“In my view, it is an intimist tale on the themes of loneliness, dreams, and imagination.” – Denis Thériault
I highly recommend this book to mature readers looking for a character- or theme-driven novel. Warning: there are one or two chapters with sexual imagery, which is why I say “mature” readers, but this imagery is depicted through the use of haiku, and it’s not necessarily crude.
If you do decide to add this book to your collection, please let me know what you think after reading it! It’s definitely a novel that requires some digestion afterwards, and I’ve been longing to have a discussion about it with someone!