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Wednesday, 5 August 2015
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault (trans. Liedewy Hawke)
What We Thought: Bilodo, a postman in Montreal, has been opening other people’s letters for some time. After he has read them he always seals them up and delivers them, so he considers this secret vice to be a hobby rather than a crime. He only opens personal correspondence – the real letters, the handwritten ones – and this way he encounters Ségolène.
Ségolène lives in Guadaloupe and regularly sends haikus to a local poet, Gaston Grandpré. Bilodo finds her letters thrilling and chastely arousing. So taken is he with this unknown and far off woman, he fails to register the interest of the very real Tania, a waitress at his favourite lunchtime haunt.
When Grandpré is knocked down in the act of attempting to post a letter to Ségolène, Bilodo’s life changes and what was a ritualistic pleasure becomes a dangerous obsession. Driven by the desire to take over the correspondence with Ségolène, he has to learn everything he can about the art of the seventeen-syllable haiku and the longer more sensual tanka. As Bilodo immerses himself in the poetic forms, the reader too learns about Japanese culture and poetry.
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman is a strangely delightful little book. Though told mainly in prose, sometimes the short poems themselves carry the story. The torrid lovemaking shown entirely through a series of exchanged tankas has to be the funniest literary orgasm since the Nausicca scene in Ulysses. I do hope the emphasis on poetry doesn’t put anyone off, though – this little novel is a fast read and it sweeps nimbly along to its inevitable conclusion. Philosophical, circular and implacable it reflects Bilodo’s life and the lives of those who may emulate him. Step off the wheel, it seems to say, and avoid the mistakes of repetition and blinkered infatuation with that which is not real.
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Quirky flights of fancy with a touch of zen.
Avoid if you dislike: Japanese poetry.
Ideal accompaniments: Ceremonial tea taken while wearing a kimono; traditional Japanese koto music.
Genre: Literary Fiction. Poetry.
Available from Amazon