REVIEW: The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain
Every day, Albert Entwistle makes his way through the streets of his small English town, delivering letters and parcels and returning greetings with a quick wave and a “how do?” Everyone on his route knows Albert, or thinks they do—a man of quiet routines, content to live alone with his cat, Gracie.
Three months before his sixty-fifth birthday, Albert receives a letter from the Royal Mail thanking him for decades of service and stating that he is being forced into retirement. At once, Albert’s simple life unravels. Without the work that fills his days, what will he do? He has no friends, family, or hobbies—just a past he never speaks of, and a lost love that fills him with regret. And so, rather than continue his lonely existence, Albert forms a brave plan to start truly living, to be honest about who he is . . . and to find George, the man with whom he spent one perfect spring and summer long ago.
One painful yet exhilarating step at a time, Albert begins searching for George and revealing his story to those around him. As he does, something extraordinary happens. Albert finds unlikely allies, new friends, and the courage to help others—even as he seeks the happiness he’s always denied himself.
CW – homophobia, gay bashing, casual racism, death of child with cancer, parental emotional abuse, death of elderly pet
Dear Mr. Cain,
I read the blurb for this book and wanted to try it based on the feeling that I was going to get something a little different from my usual. Here is an older MC – a closeted gay man facing his retirement and wondering about the love he lost 50 years ago. It also had a cat on the cover. It began with a lot of sad stuff, had me tearing up in places but by the end it was almost too perfectly smooth and easy. Sort of a Hallmark Movie in a book.
Albert Entwistle is almost 65 and has lived a quiet life in the small town of Toddington delivering the post for the Royal Mail. He keeps his head down and has ducked away from sharing details of his life with anyone and would be happiest if he could be invisible. It’s just he and his elderly cat Gracie. Then he gets a letter reminding him of the forced retirement at age 65. What will he do then?
As I said, this one starts bleak but gets much happier before eventually becoming full fledged feelgood. It’s like most of all the tough conflict is cleared out early on to smooth the path for the rest of the story. I could feel Albert’s reluctance to interact with most of his colleagues and people on his post route. Albert is a quiet kind of person, as am I, and both of us aren’t the flamboyant ones who garner attention and tell every detail of our lives. I too look forward to getting home and relaxing with my cats (I’m one cat short of being an official Crazy Cat Lady).
Then Something Happens to Gracie. Albert and I both cried. But I also felt a little cheated. I wanted more Gracie. Something else happens that makes Albert remember his youth and the wonderful young man with whom Albert fell in love before Events tore them apart. This is told in almost a montage format of flashback scenes spaced across the entire book. The joy of Albert’s awakening love life is contrasted with the abhorrence with which society at large (and Albert’s awful parents) still viewed LGBTQIA people and their relationships.
After Albert begins to think about his past and wonders about the “one who got away,” he gradually comes out. Not only about being gay but also out of his social shell. I’ve read that some think Albert is almost childlike in how little he knows about social media or about updating his dress style. Well he knows about these things it’s just that up until this point in his life, he hasn’t been interested. I myself do not jump on the latest fashion styles nor have I ever had any social media profiles. I would need assistance in setting them up, too, if I were to ever lose my mind and decide I wanted them. Cut Albert some slack, people.
Most of the story is Albert opening up to friendship and the possibility of finding his lost love. There is very much a “found family” element going on. He comes to rely on a young single mother of Trinidadian heritage as well as an older single woman who are both people on his postal route. As they help him, he also helps them. Very heartwarming, all in all. There is also a degree of formulaic-ness and every stereotyped person possible who needs support is turned into a character and given 10 minutes in the spotlight. Also, parts sort of turn into a manifesto on gay pride (from young George). If I can see the strings being tugged, it takes away a bit of the emotional depth for me.
I enjoy a positive book as much as anyone but by the end, I felt smothered in sugar and sparkles with it only needing a ‘heartfelt chat” between Albert and some other character to clear up long standing issues and give people exactly the boost or idea needed to fix whatever was wrong in their lives. There is a degree of easy sentimentality and the idea that once extremely quiet and reserved Albert decided to come out, all his friends, neighbors, work colleagues, and casual acquaintances would joyfully throw “coming out” parties for him or rush out onto the street to clap him on the back and congratulate him for finally admitting he is gay began to stretch my belief.
But perhaps we need a book in which this happens. It won’t make up for the past but as Albert says, he’s partly continuing his search to find George not only for himself but for all the men who lost their loves or their lives due to prejudice, HIV or having lived when being open and out wasn’t possible. For this I say, fling the glitter and confetti.
Nevertheless, the book needed a bit of editing down as there were points when a bunch of telling took the place of showing. Other scenes included too many details that weren’t exactly needed. Plus the final climax was a touch anticlimactic for me. And I wanted Albert to get another cat. B-