Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Burrow into a Book

As I have mentioned before, I do like picking books sometimes by their covers. My eye is caught by something and oops, there I go, veering course in the bookshop.

This was very much the case with The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault. I was immediately drawn by the front cover with its delicate cherry blossom, it's intriguing title and it's modest size - of late I have been reading sizeable books and in all honesty I was excited by the thought of enjoying this in one sitting. I then saw the stamp of Radio Two Book Club which, for me, is always a good sign. To further my interest, I found the main characters name was Bilodo ( my Tolkien inspired brain immediately jumped to Bilbo and again, took it as a good indication) and I was also happy to find that the story based around a communication of Haiku poetry. Being an enthusiastic, if not sometimes haphazard poet myself and an avid letter writer, these final details sold the book to me.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman revolves around just that, the life of a young, introverted postman, Bilodo, who, for thrills, reads other peoples mail. It is through this past time that he stumbles upon a beautiful exchange of Haiku poetry between two people called Gaston and Segolene. Swept up in her penmanship and elegant words, the postman soon begins to fall in love with Segolene, a woman he has never met. When a sudden, tragedy occurs, Bilodo takes action so as to keep his new found obsession of Segolene and her poetry safe, but it is through these actions that his life crashes down around him.

I felt that I met Bilodo in an odly charming manner, very similar to how I felt when I first read Jonas Jonasson's The Hundred-Year-Old-Man-Who.....'  This makes sense when I realised that both books were published by Hesperus.The delivery of the first page lines 'In the meantime, he was a postman. He was twenty-seven years old' was brilliant, specifically after the mention that Bilodo, if the opportunity was made available, could master any hypothetical stair-scaling Olympic event. It clearly showed Bilodo as a young man caught in an ageing routine, living a rather seemingly solitary life and yet a man who has an underlining potential, mystery and want for more.

It was my first time reading Theriault and I am happy to say I would highly recommend him as an author. Often compared to Murakami and Julian Barnes, his craftsmanship of writing is very entrancing, yet understated, very poignant, yet, at times blunt. He en captures a truly human quality, a very honest voice, with a great sense of longing but that which makes you question the lines of privacy, right and wrong and what defines companionship. At times I couldn't believe the lengths that Bilodo was going to, teetering on the perverse and insensitive but then suddenly he would say or write something endearing and pity for the poor postman would overtake; especially during moments with the eager waitress Tania.

I particularly liked the imagery, use of metaphor and the lyrical aspect of the book; the scenes during which Bilodo moves into Gaston's apartment I felt a real sensuality with the surroundings and a very vivid image and clear understanding of how much Bilodo craved to be in his world and close to Segolene but also the reality of how wrong it was at the same time. Coinciding with this, I am a fan of the old fashioned Haiku and love letter and it was through these that again the reader was elevated into this height of poetic love that Bilodo had for Segolene. It was really enjoyable to see how the Haiku's progressed to Tanka alongside the progressing relationship of Bilodo and Segolene and back again;

“And so the history of the haiku’s birth repeated itself : stripped of superfluous words…the naked essence of the poetry emerged.”

I was also pleased that there was a Q & A at the back where Theriault discussed his writing process, inspiration for the story and also the history and philosophy of the Haiku and its ancestor, the Tanka.

 A quote that stuck with me was regarding different types of writing and how Theriault describes them;

"The screenwriter is never far behind the novelist, but he stays in the shadows, it is necessary to make good literature."

Overall, a small book with big worth. I have to say that the ending left me wanting more? I appreciated the metaphorical link and how it supported the books Zen philosophy but I was expecting just a little more.

Still, I will be lending this to many friends for when they want a train ride companion, Haiku inspiration or a short, truly evocative story about a well meaning, if not slightly deluded,
young postman named Bilodo.


  1. Thank you, Meg, for this review ... I'm always glad to hear about a work of fiction with poetic overtones!

  2. It's a lovely little book :) Hopefully see you soon at a poetry event

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