Book Review

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain


Albert Entwistle was a postman. It was one of the few things everyone knew about him. And it was one of the few things he was comfortable with people knowing.

64-year-old Albert Entwistle has been a postie in a quiet town in Northern England for all his life, living alone since the death of his mam 18 years ago. He keeps himself to himself. He always has. But he’s just learned he’ll be forced to retire at his next birthday. With no friends and nothing to look forward to, the lonely future he faces terrifies him. He realises it’s finally time to be honest about who he is. He must learn to ask for what he wants. And he must find the courage to look for George, the man that, many years ago, he lost – but has never forgotten…

Join Albert as he sets out to find the long-lost love of his life, and has an unforgettable and completely life-affirming adventure on the way… This is a love story the likes of which you have never read before!

When we first meet Albert, he comes across as a gruff, no nonsense kind of individual who keeps to himself and who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.  He lives alone with his cat, Gracie, and believes himself to be content, although the reader can see that he’s surviving more than thriving.  As he approaches his 65th birthday, he’s hit with the news that he will be expected to retire from his job as a postman – a job he’s does since he was 16, and his only source of interaction with others.  It’s a shock, and as he contemplates what the future might hold – and perhaps more importantly what it will lack – he realises that he has a lonely future ahead of him.  Unwilling to accept the seemingly inevitable role of recluse, he decides to take action and track down George – his boyfriend from almost 50 years ago and someone who he feels he betrayed.

Albert is such a wonderful character, and I was with him every step of the way.  At the same time, it’s clear that this is a mammoth undertaking, and having little experience of phones and social media, both Albert and the reader realise that he’s going to need some help.  His journey is not one of transformation – of becoming something else – it’s more about accepting himself as he is, and not being afraid to show the “warts and all” version of himself to the world. It’s not easy, and there are a few false starts and missteps along the way, but Albert’s journey is one that will take him to unexpected places and that makes him realise that he’s shied away from human contact for reasons that are no longer necessary.

Albert makes some unlikely friends along his journey, but the one he becomes most reliant upon is Nicole.  She’s a single mum in her early twenties and is trying to navigate a tentative relationship with Jamie – a student whose parents don’t approve of their relationship.  She’s a tough character who is doing her best to keep her head above water, and I love her honesty and the support she gives to Albert despite everything else that she has going on in her life.  And as Albert stops keeping people at arm’s length and starts to open up, he finds that those around him are more than willing to help in any way they can.  It’s a revelation to him, and there are some genuinely touching moments throughout the novel as his friendship group widens.

As we learn more about Albert’s life, we begin to understand how Albert had become the character we first meet.  We see the prejudice and persecution that gay men have faced over time. Even following the legalisation, the prejudice remained, with many facing slurs, stigma, and worse as a result. It’s not the focus of the novel, but it provides a useful context as to Albert’s behaviour and his decision to hide away that aspect of himself is understandable, even though it shouldn’t have been necessary.  I think that this novel acknowledges how far we’ve come since then, even though there’s still more that can be done. 

Written with warmth and humour, this is an incredibly touching novel about second chances, being yourself, and the way in which friends can often be found in the unlikeliest of places. Absolutely brilliant – I can’t recommend this enough. 

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is published by Headline on 27 May.  Huge thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review via Netgalley.

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