Title: Charlie Savage
Author: Roddy Doyle
Genre: Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 208
Well, I never thought it would happen but here it is- a novel by Roddy Doyle that is actually light-hearted. Most of the stuff he writes is super dark so when someone described this book as being upbeat I had some serious trouble believing it. Like most of Doyle’s books, Charlie Savage is not a particularly plot-driven affair. Most of it is just a warm-hearted character study of a working-class Irish man hopelessly out of step with modern times. It was originally serialized in a newspaper, so the chapters almost feel like interlinked short stories at times, without the sense of fluid narrative most novels have.
The titular protagonist is a married man with kids and grandkids, and he is happy most of the time and lives a fairly simple life full of everyday pleasures like football and being an eager source of bad influence to his beloved grandson. His only friend, Martin, doesn’t seem to be transgender but nevertheless is experimenting with his gender identity; he is a widower who seems to be on the borderline of genderfluidity and Charlie calls him ‘the secret woman.’
Except for Charlie and Martin, none of the characters are given names and are identified by their individual roles in Charlie’s life. The events that he describes are sometimes emotionally touching, frequently awkward, and often very funny; Charlie seems to lack any profound sense of self-examination so he focuses on enjoying his life and appreciating time well spent with his family.
I thought Charlie’s ‘senior moments’ definitely felt exaggerated (seriously, how can any person who is not flat-out senile keep forgetting the names of their children and their grandchildren?) I knew it was intentional hyperbole played for humor but it was still a little bit weird, like am I supposed to find this depressing or not? I liked Charlie’s wife and daughter and his relationship with them, they’re a dysfunctional brood but in a way that’s nonetheless filled with love.
One of the things that’s striking about Charlie is how ordinary he is, but though it would be easy to consider his life experiences largely unremarkable they are also infused with a surprising amount of meaning. I also enjoyed all the jabs at Trump Roddy Doyle worked into this book, the chapter that talked about Trump’s scatter-brained lack of accountability was probably the funniest, I laughed so hard I decided to read that one part of the book to my mom. Charlie Savage is a quick read and consistently funny examination of a older man baffled by popular culture, technology, and the rapidly shifting political climate. It’s also a testament to the love of family and the importance of enjoying one’s life, no matter how stressful it can sometimes be.
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