Becky Lees, Arnolfini Bookshop Assistant, and the Arnolfini Book Club, review ‘The Lonely Life of the Peculiar Postman’ by Denis Theriault…
“The story of the lonely postman is totally immersive. We all got caught up in the universe created in this novella, making it a quick and enjoyable read. The plot is consumed by the main character, Bilodo and somehow, whilst reading, you do not question him (although when you sit down to discuss it as a book club, there is much to question!).
Bilodo, is perhaps hard to sympathise with – he makes some pretty unconventional decisions and yet as a reading group, we generally liked him! His isolated lifestyle seems to be mirrored in the simplicity of Theriault’s writing, which contains just the bare bones of description. The exchange of beautiful poetry that Theriault crafted for his characters, which stands out in the story, highlights the significance of Bilodo’s relationship with Segolene – a relationship only formed through letter writing.
There were parts of the plot that seemed a bit abrupt – particularly the ending, which is actually a very clever surprise but could have been drawn out further. However, this suited our discussion as we had the chance to question what might have happened if a different plotline had been followed, we could explore the meaning that Theriault may have been trying to imply and we could create our own imaginings of character back stories.
What also stood out for us, was the joy of letter writing. In a digital age where we can edit and proof read messages before sending them the magic of a letter that captures someone’s personal thought and care is a rare thing. We all enjoyed remembering our own personal experiences of sending and receiving post. The excitement in the book builds to letters being sent without waiting for replies, with several all arriving at once – a keen example of the rush of receiving post.
Whilst this book is unconventional, quirky and sometimes bizarre, it also celebrates the lost art of many things. The lost art of letter writing being the most significant but what also shines through is the poetry – the beauty of haiku and tanka, something many of us may not experience outside of a book like this. Additionally, this book highlights a loss in communication in a more general sense than just letter writing – Bilodo has such a rich interior life but a complete lack of connection to any of the people around him. Theriault begins to suggest the lesson Bilodo has to learn – of building a life and appreciating the possible friendships around him. Whilst many of us will not be able to compare our lives to Bilodo’s, a reminder of the importance of those we share our lives with is something we can all relate to.”