Reading Charlie Savage reminded me of a time I helped avert a family crisis for the business editor of The Scotsman. It was his sister’s 40th birthday and he had been about to present her with an emergency car repair kit when I intervened. After quizzing him about his beauty counter assistant sibling’s likes and dislikes, I eventually managed to persuade him that a spa voucher was likely to go down better and off we went – the oddest couple you can imagine – to the nearest fancy hotel to purchase one. Standing among the groups of dressing gown-clad, prosecco-sipping women as we waited for the voucher to be printed, my colleague reacted much as you might expect the titular hero of Roddy Doyle’s new book to react: with a combination of awkwardness and bewilderment.
Charlie Savage is a fictional creation of Doyle’s who appears regularly in the Irish Independent newspaper, usually in the opinion pages. Unlike Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series for The Scotsman, however, which is essentially a novel cut up into short chunks, Charlie Savage reads as a column, with Doyle writing as an archetypal middle-aged Irishman, struggling to come to terms with the modern world. A year’s worth of these columns are gathered together here.
“The problem is, she wants me to go with her,” explains the eponymous Savage of a spa trip his wife has chosen as her birthday present. “Why didn’t I just get her a scarf or one of those One4All vouchers?”
Savage is likeable and bumbling and Doyle’s voice is spot on for the persona he has adopted, but it is nothing new, echoing previous characters of his such as Jimmy Rabbite in The Guts and the two men chewing the fat in a Dublin pub in Two Pints.
Savage is a serious cliché: he prefers chips to the diet of sauerkraut and sardines that his daughter tries to get him to follow; he doesn’t know what WhatsApp is; he struggles to understand internet dating and “worries” that his son might be gay. He constantly wallows in nostalgia, particularly when passing the former locations of old-style cafes which are no longer part of the Dublin retail landscape, and he feigns an inability to remember which of his children is married and to whom. He is the man who we all believe our father has turned into as he has got older – yet in reality, no-one is actually all of these things: except, perhaps, the aforementioned Scotsman business editor.
I still enjoyed it, bar a few mocking scenes with his drinking buddy who has decided that he identifies as a woman. While the tone taken when writing abut this issue will inevitably please the “the world’s gone PC-mad” brigade, the way in which Savage explains away his friend’s proclamation as a result of grief after losing his wife is far too simplistic for these times.
In so many ways, this book is seriously outdated – I had previously believed that this “I’m getting old and the modern world is passing me by” schtick went out with Victor Meldrew in the 1990s.
It is, of course, all made up, yet reading it made me wonder: is this just Doyle mocking men of his own generation? Or are these the kinds of opinions he would like to express himself, but doesn’t dare to under his own name? Either way, it is a lighthearted, easy read which will undoubtedly appeal to men of Doyle’s – and Savage’s – generation. - Jane Bradley
Charlie Savage, by Roddy Doyle, Jonathan Cape, 208pp, £9.99