Book Review by Frank O’Shea
Roddy Doyle: CHARLIE SAVAGE Jonathan Cape 2019. 202 pp.
RRP: $29.99 (€11.99 post free Kennys.ie)
Roddy Doyle’s latest book is a collection of newspaper columns from the Irish Independent. It is written in the voice of Charlie Savage, a north Dubliner, who does for that part of the city what Ross O’Carroll-Kelly does for the more upmarket southside in Paul Howard’s pieces for the Irish Times. That being said, Charlie Savage would probably use the expression up-themselves for the residents of Blackrock and Booterstown where O’Carroll-Kelly and his friends have their adventures.
There is another difference between this book and the prolific output from Paul Howard. Whereas books like Rhino What You Did Last Summer, NAMA Mia, Downturn Abbey and The Oh My God Delusion are unmuted satire, Roddy Doyle’s treatment of his part of Dublin is affectionate, almost idealised. Where there is criticism, it is gentle and soft, offered with a smile rather than a sneer. His characters are salt-of-the-earth, working-class men and women with their own faults and foibles, people he treats with warmth and respect.
Charlie’s household consists of himself, his wife, daughter and three-year old grandson. In the piece that opens the book, the child decides that he would like a tattoo and asks his granny how he can get one. She discusses it with Charlie.
– He can’t even say tattoo, I tell her.
– I know,
– ‘Hattoo’ is what he says
– I know, she says. – It’s sweet.
That last is the tone of the book, accepting and understanding. To get over the problem, Charlie himself has to get one – of SpongeBob – and it features in a number of later pieces.
In a later chapter, we find the grandson taking a sip of his mother’s black tea, mistaking it for his coke. The conversation continues,
– What did he say, I ask the daughter.
– He’s traumatised, she tells me.
– Did he say that?
And he says it again.
At this, Granda explains to his little grandson that if he uses that word, it must always be followed by the word ‘Joe’.
– Say after me, I tell him – ‘I was traumatised, Joe’
– T’aum-a-tise, Doe!
It’s not clear at this distance who Joe is, but one imagines it is a radio jock (Joe Duffy?) who takes calls from people claiming to have been traumatised by something or other, an occurrence which they feel entitles them to monetary compensation. Rarely has Ireland’s recent discovery of the goldmine that is called litigation been so neatly skewered.
The other character who appears in many of the pieces is his drinking friend whom he calls Secret Woman. That man’s wife has recently died and he has convinced himself that he is really a woman in a man’s body. Charlie accepts this without any problem and even invites Secret Woman to accompany him to the far reaches of the southside to meet a girl he briefly kissed when he was sixteen. It might seem to be an excuse for some revisiting of his youth, but Charlie loves his wife and is delighted when Secret Woman falls for this new femme fatale.
That incident is in many ways one of the charms of the book. Charlie is a good man, a bit rough about the edges, a bit fond of a pint, but not in a way that attracts the word ‘problem’, in no way a scoundrel or a knocker. His language is pure Dub; Match of the Day is his favourite television program; he has predictable opinions on things like ipads, box sets of films, internet dating, Jose Mourinho and healthy lifestyle as preached to him by his daughter.
This is a perfectly delightful book, the best remedy for a bad mood or a feeling that life is going too fast. Read three or four of these short pieces for a perfect pick-me-up.