What an odd book this is!
Bilodo is a 27 year old postman in Montreal. He delivers the mail, eats at a local restaurant, practices calligraphy and plays computer games everyday. But he has a secret. Before delivering personal letters he takes them home, steams them open, reads, photocopies and files before resealing the original and delivering. To him all these lives he vicariously lives through ‘form a kind of soap opera with multiple plots’, much more exciting than his own dull life. And this is how he comes across the correspondence between Ségolène, a teacher in Guadeloupe and Gaston Grandpré, a Montreal local. Bilodo is completely smitten, Ségolène’s letters contain one page on which is written in delicate penmanship a single poem. He even gets to see (and photocopy) a photograph of her. Which could seem quite creepy really, except that it isn’t.
Maybe that’s because it’s about loneliness and identity and poetry and snail mail? Anyway, Bilodo loves the simple beauty of the words and style of the poems but doesn’t know what they are until he notices an article in a newspaper one day ‘The Saturday Haiku’ – and with that knowledge he begins to practice
On the clothes line in the yard
the washing freezes
and sparrows shiver
and the haiku, calligraphy and research in the library take over his life. But this is not just a book of romantic whimsy, Bilodo is teased relentlessly by his work mates for his writing and for being an outsider and I found his determination and self belief really inspiring.
As events begin to unfold so Bilodo’s life starts to detach from reality. He finds himself in a position to rent Gaston’s apartment and (to add to his crimes) impersonate him. This means he can write to Ségolène directly and does so with aplomb – their haiku exchange quickly becomes furious and passionate (now they’re using express mail) until the unthinkable happens and she suggests they meet. . .
It’s around this point that Enso, the Zen circle of enlightenment is introduced and the novel (which is only 100 or so pages) takes a turn that I really didn’t see coming. I like stories where everyone has both feet planted firmly on the ground, so I’m afraid I began to lose a bit of interest here and found the ending a bit disappointing which is a shame because I was enjoying the slightly crazy nature of this book while learning a lot about the art of haiku.
However, the sequel is called The Postman’s Fiancée, I can’t think how the story is going to get there but I’m looking forward to reading it and catching up with these characters.