I’m not sure how well most people know their postie. After long years working at home answering the door to receive bulky parcels of books, I have regular cheery exchanges with mine. I don’t think he’s the type to steam open letters before popping them through the door which is what Québécois writer Denis Thériault’s Bilodo does, delighting in the range of missives from erotic fantasies sent by a nurse posted to the back of beyond to cheer up her boyfriend to advice on conjuring up ghosts. The letters that he most eagerly anticipates come from the island of Guadeloupe. They contain haiku from Ségolène, a young teacher, to a man called Grandpré, about whom Bilodo knows nothing being privy to only one side of the conversation. Each time a letter postmarked Guadeloupe appears, Bilodo’s heart sings. He takes it home, lights some candles, scents the room, puts on some quiet jazz and steams it gently open. The contents transport him: three lines of pure bliss. Then, one day when he’s about to deliver Grandpré’s mail there’s horrible accident and suddenly an opportunity opens up for Bilodo to become the man he really wants to be. He seizes it with both hands and begins a life which becomes increasingly outlandish.
Hesperus publish beautifully packaged books, always a little out the way and often interesting. Thériault’s novel is no exception. His writing – and Liedewy Hawke’s translation – is a delight. The premise of a lonely young postman opening private mail and fantasizing about its contents may seem downright creepy but the tone of the novel is such that you find yourself hoping for happiness for Bilodo in his desperate yearning and ever-increasing efforts to convince Ségolène of his sincerity. The bright humour which runs through the novel in counterpoint to its poignancy lifts it beautifully, and many of the haiku are lovely. Thériault is a screenwriter as well as a novelist and his writing is often vividly cinematic. It ends in an entirely unexpected way, at least for me, and at first I didn’t like it at all but it’s grown on me and now seems entirely fitting. Apparently there’s a second volume in the works – given that ending I’m not quite sure how it will work but I’m looking forward to finding out.