The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is a novel about a postman set to retire, who gets a new lease of life to try and hunt down his lost love, George. Albert has been a postman all his life, living in a small Northern town and keeping himself to himself, living with just his cat since his mother died eighteen years ago. When a letter from work tells him that he’s due to retire in a few months, he realises that he doesn’t want to be lonely, and starts building up connections with people in the local community, and building the courage to look for George, the man he loved and lost in his youth.
The sort of book you have to call ‘heart-warming’, The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle has deep meaning underneath its light and sweet story and characters. In particular, it highlights the way people hide things for such a long time (like sexuality, but also the issues Albert had with his parents) and the importance of finding people you can talk to and be open with. The trauma Albert has due to these things in his past means he doesn’t expect people in the present to be kind or sympathetic, and his amazement at people being supportive as he comes out to them shows how deep that was ingrained.
The main narrative is around Albert hunting down George, who is a big presence in the novel though mostly in flashbacks, and George being in the drag scene is a nice way for Albert to discover some of the gay culture he’s missed due to fear. The subplot in which Albert becomes friends with Nicole, a young single mum whose boyfriend’s family won’t accept her, feels typical of the genre (person stuck in their ways makes a new friend who is different to them and pulls them out of their rut), but works well to show friends can come from unexpected directions.
The depiction of an older gay man coming out is important and poignant, and hopefully this sort of book will open the eyes of lots of people who wouldn’t think about the issues faced due to decades of fear and trauma. It’s an ideal story for this kind of book, a light read about someone who is lost and lonely finding hope and people, as it shows the need for different kind of community and also for self-acceptance. Not necessarily the kind of genre I’d usually pick up, but definitely the kind of narrative I want to read and see in the world.