Saturday, 30 May 2015

"The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman" - Denis Thériault


Most of the way through this book, I didn't get what the fuss was about. A friend recommended it. Somewhere along the line, we found ourselves talking about haiku and she brought up this book, stuffed full of Japanese stanzas.

The poetry is integral to the whole pace, structure and plot of the story, and initially I felt a little like I was reading an educational guide thinly veiled in fiction. I was frustrated by the sparse character detail. The lack of direct speech seemed like a barrier to really entering into the action, and the action seemed like a secondary interjection to the main feature: haiku after haiku, then tanka (the haiku's five-lined counterpart), then back to haiku. I was tempted to just not finish it but it's a pretty short book to quit on, so I ploughed through.

And then. Then I got it.

For me, the closing pages elevated this book from a fairly odd read to a confirmed work of genius. I don't want to spoil it for the uninitiated, but it was so surprisingly satisfying. Thériault's smashing of storytelling convention, like his complete disregard for the cardinal rule of "show, don't tell", is perfectly attuned to such an unconventional tale. At the end of the 101 page journey, everything and nothing makes sense.

I would love to have the language skills to read it in French. Although the translation fully paints the story's excessive passions and unsettling, fantastical events, I imagine the rhythms and romanticism within its original language take the craftsmanship to a whole new level of sophistication.

But I think the thing I'm the most grateful for from my experience of reading the book, is that it's played its part in the "wow" I feel about the world again. Its rekindled my sense of wanting to write, wanting to share, wanting to appreciate the artistry of others.

It's reminded me of the magic in the mundane. So thank you, Thériault.

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