The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman – Denis Thériault

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman Denis Thériault

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman – Denis Thériault
Translated by Liedewy Hawke
Hesperus Press, 2014

I picked up this book after browsing the Waterstones website for new books to add to my to-read list (as if it needs to get any longer!) The premise sounded intriguing – the novella follows Bilodo, a young man who leads a quiet and solitary life and enjoys his work as a postman. Perhaps what he enjoys most about his work is the opportunity to open other people’s letters and imagine their lives. He is particularly enchanted by the correspondence between Gaston and Ségolène, each letter comprising of a single haiku. As he reads more of their letters Bilodo begins to fall in love with Ségolène and he treasures each time her poems arrive in the mail room. One day on his round, Bilodo witnesses Gaston rushing to post his next haiku to Ségolène when he is struck by a car and killed. Bilodo seizes this opportunity and assumes the identity of Gaston, continuing to write to Ségolène so she doesn’t disappear from his life.

This book started off quite promising for me. I was interested in where this plot could go, so perhaps it was my expectations which let me down rather than the book itself. The novella follows Bilodo’s tragic, and often slightly farcical, life but I felt his character to be quite flat. I didn’t warm to him; I felt distanced from him and I couldn’t always sympathise or understand his decisions.

This short book raises interesting questions of identity – Bilodo writes to Ségolène under the name of Gaston and, in trying to perfectly emulate him so as not to arouse suspicion, he begins to live life as Gaston did. The two men blur into one. On this theme, the novella is a clever one, particularly in terms of its structure and ending. But the ending is a surprising one and, in some ways, doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. The novella starts off as realistic and then subtly shifts into something else which is difficult to categorise – this isn’t necessarily a fault, but it felt a little out of place here.

I admire the poetry in this book, with Thériault doing a good job of charting Bilodo’s transition from someone who doesn’t write poetry to someone who can write beautiful haikus. The translation is a good one too, particularly with the poetry that is interspersed throughout the book.

I didn’t overly enjoy this book and it left little impression on me but I’m finding it difficult to pinpoint why. Perhaps it was that Bilodo’s character felt flat and lifeless to me; perhaps it was that the plot didn’t capture my imagination in reality as much as it did initially when I read the blurb. This isn’t a bad book – it’s well written and has an interesting plot – it just wasn’t the right book for me.



8 thoughts on “The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman – Denis Thériault

  1. This sounds like such an interesting premise for a story, so it’s a shame that you didn’t enjoy it. I know that feeling of choosing a book that has been recommended by so many critics and book shops, and not enjoying it for whatever reason. It’s so disappointing, especially when you see that it has such an interesting plot that could have developed well. I might have to read this anyway, just to see how it ends!

    • I agree, it was disappointing. Maybe I’ll reread it at some point and see if my opinion’s changed! I’d be interested to hear what you think of it – let me know if you get a chance to read it 🙂

  2. I’ve just been reading this book myself! Like you, it didn’t live up to my expectations. In fact, I haven’t actually finished it. I know it is a short story, and I reached about the seventy page mark, but I honestly wasn’t feeling it enough to read the last 40+ pages.

    I discovered the book on another blog and was so intrigued by the premise; I borrowed it from my local library as soon as. To me, although realistic – to an extent – the story just wasn’t alive. I was quite disappointed though as it did start off promising.

    Interesting reading your thoughts on a book I’ve been reading lately!

    • I completely agree with your point about the story not being alive. I still can’t pinpoint exactly why but it just didn’t work for me. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but glad I’m not the only one who didn’t love this book!

  3. Interesting premise, but not quite there on the execution. Perhaps a little too quiet for its own good.

    There was a UK film on a similar subject titled Helen, quite hard to find details of online as there was a US film of the same title at much the same time that got a lot more attention. In that a girl is asked to take part in a crime reenactment film to help police who are searching for a missing schoolmate of hers. She does so, but through that starts to find herself stepping into the disappeared girl’s life, which was richer than her own. Guardian review here:

    I mention it because of the theme, and because I liked the film though it too is very quiet.

    • Thank you for sharing that review Max, I’ve just had a read and the film sounds really interesting – I must try and check it out. Thanks for recommending!

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful review, Gemma. I think this book does possess an intriguing premise, but it sounds like it would take a lot of skill to execute well, considering the actions taken by the protagonist. Glad that you can discuss it in an analytic and bipartisan way despite how you did not enjoy it to an extreme amount. Do you often find yourself reading novellas?

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