Book Review: The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain ★★★1/2

Matt Cain’s The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is a heartbreakingly sweet story about how times of crisis can trigger moments of rewarding growth. Melancholic and romantic, it charts one man’s realisation that it is never too late to live life to its fullest.

Albert Entwistle is a postman in an English country village. A creature of routine and privacy. He is in many ways, a man out of time, living the calm settled country life more reminiscent of decades past. His days are spent walking his route, trying to be as invisible as possible, and returning home to his loving cat. It’s a quiet, solitary life. Things are turned upside down when, on the eve of his 65th birthday he is reminded of Royal Mail’s mandatory retirement policy. He’ll soon be without a job, without a routine. When events conspire to rip all his emotional supports away from him, he is forced to confront the question… who is the real Albert Entwistle?

Albert has lived his whole life in the closet. As the novel progresses the reason why becomes clearer. Albert has never dealt with a key traumatic incident in his past, and has lived under the spectre of his own shame for decades. But now, with nothing to lose, and the world changing around him quickly, Albert hatches a plan to change his circumstances; but change is never that easy.

The opening chapters of The Secret Life… will draw a tear to your eyes. Cain paints a portrait of a man who is cheerful and polite on the surface, but who has become a prisoner of the destructive words he heard in his youth. But as Cain draws Albert out, conquering his fear of rejection, Albert comes alive. It was impossible not to cheer him on as he becomes friends with a local, teenage single mum and together they help each other heal.

Cain’s prose flows easily and the book, while dramatic and often intense, is delightfully feel-good and reassuringly, you’re never really in doubt that Albert will end in a better place than he began. Cain manipulates emotions with style but brings you in for a smooth, albeit somewhat rushed, landing.

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle has a cathartic edge to it, your emotions will be pulled from pillar to post(box) as you laugh, cry and cheer along with the characters. It’s about as far from ‘misery-porn’ as you can get, while still having some emotional oomph behind it. A lovely, charming read.

By Chad Armstrong

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is available now from you local independent bookseller, or the usual online stores.

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