Monday 21 October 2019

Roddy Doyle's cheeky Charlie on Trump, tea and toddler tattoos

Fiction: Charlie Savage

Roddy Doyle

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 202 pages, €11.99

Great one-liners: Roddy Doyle. Photo by Mark Condren
Great one-liners: Roddy Doyle. Photo by Mark Condren
Charlie Savage

John Boland

Roddy Doyle's new book, assembled from the column he writes for this newspaper every Saturday, is so crammed with great one-liners that I could fill this review simply by quoting them.

Here's the opening to the first piece:

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One of the grandkids wants a tattoo.

He's only three, I tell the wife.

I'm aware of that, she tells me back. -But he still wants one.

He can't even say 'tattoo', I tell her.

Charlie Savage is Jimmy Rabbitte a few decades later and doing his best to cope with family, friends and the world around him, just as Jimmy did in the Barrytown Trilogy that made Roddy Doyle famous all those years ago.

Charlie, though, is in his sixties and has to contend with a world that seems to get more bewildering all the time - what with Faceboook and WhatsApp and a wife who plays drums with an oldies punk band called Pelvic Floors and a drinking buddy who now identifies as a woman ("He might think he's a woman, but he's still a bollix").

Then there's American president Donald Trump, who has taught Charlie the virtue of denying everything, so that when his wife tells him his fly is open he can retort that it isn't - he just hasn't closed it yet. And there's the daughter, who's constantly trying to make Charlie a better person, or at least one who'll live a bit longer. She drives him nuts but "I look at the world through her eyes".

Indeed, far from being the curmudgeon he likes to present to the world, Charlie is endearingly open to life, even unwisely going to meet a long-lost girlfriend in Greystones ("I haven't been this far south since myself and the wife went to the Algarve 10 years ago"). That doesn't come to anything, much to Charlie's relief, though he's somewhat cheesed off when his transgender-wishing pal hooks up with the woman instead.

The book is in 52 chapters, each of them about three pages long - the length of the Charlie Savage column in the Saturday paper - and if there's a flaw in the way these pieces are now being offered, it's because they weren't originally meant to be read in this manner. What works brilliantly on a weekly basis may not be enough to sustain interest when read in one or two sittings as if it's a novel, which it isn't.

Indeed, the reader may find it advantageous to heed the advice of the great short-story writer Mavis Gallant, who cautioned that her stories should not be read "one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait".

Approached in that way, the book is a hoot. Here's Charlie on trendy cafés: "What gobshite decided that serving tea in a glass was a good idea?"

On how health guru Dr Eva, "could do with a few pints and a packet of cheese and onion". And on how Donald Trump, "just when the poor lad should be climbing into his final tracksuit, he's somehow managed to become the President of the United States".

Oh, go and read it yourself.

Read also: Roddy Doyle talks to John Meagher about Charlie Savage

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