Tag Archives: The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

The Postman’s Fiancée by Denis Thériault (transl. John Cullen): Bilodo redux

Cover imageI reviewed The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman here three years ago. It often pops up in my top posts which pleases me no end. It’s a little gem: funny, endearing and sufficiently wacky to steer itself well clear of the twee. I ended the review by mentioning that there was a second volume in the works which has been some time in coming but fans of Denis Thériault’s letter-opening postman, caught in the grips of poetic passion for Ségolène far away in Guadeloupe, are unlikely to mind the wait once they get stuck into its sequel.

Tania is a waitress so skilled that her swift, smiling service appears balletic. She delights in anticipating her customers’ desires, none more so that Bilodo, the postman who appears at lunchtime, regular as clockwork, for whom she’s conceived a passion. So shy is Tania that her only expression of love is a daily double portion of Bilodo’s favourite lemon tart. She notices Bilodo practising calligraphy and begins to foster an interest, moving on to haiku about which they chat. A misunderstanding leads to horrified embarrassment when Tania reads a love poem she thinks is for her. Attempts to bury her love fail dismally. She summons her courage, tracks down Bilodo and is astonished to find him dressed as Gaston, a fellow café customer killed by a truck exactly a year ago to the day. After an awkward exchange, she flees only to return and find Bilodo splayed across the road, apparently lifeless. Against all odds, Tania saves Bilodo’s life, faithfully visiting him in hospital and finangling her way into his apartment. When Bilodo regains consciousness, he has no memory of the last five years. Tania scents an opportunity and an elaborate attempt at hoodwinking begins.

Readers of The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman will probably recognise parts of that synopsis. Thériault switches perspective in his sequel, unfolding it from Tania’s point of view rather than Bilodo’s but retaining many of the hallmarks of the first instalment – a gentle humour which becomes downright exuberant towards the end, eccentric yet endearing characters and sufficient darkness to avoid any hint of schmaltz. These two novels were published over a decade apart in the original French but so seamlessly are they knitted together it’s as if they were written alongside each other. Bilodo’s second outing is a delight – you could read it without visiting his first but I can’t imagine why you’d want to.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault (transl. Liedewy Hawke): A very unusual love story

Cover imageI’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.