Four 20-somethings, careless and careworn flatmates in an East London tenement, are visited by their landlord. He announces he’s renovating the place to sell it, and they have four weeks to leave. Saving Grace sounds like a TV Brit-com series HBO might remake—Pulling meets Spaced, with hints of Sex and the City. However, illustrator Grace Wilson’s debut graphic novel Saving Grace becomes memorably more.
Wilson’s snarky protagonist and her washes of bright colour (Grace’s blonde hair; vibrant, cluttered rooms and shops) enliven a wryly English take on the post-university, down-in-the-dumps story. Grace works few hours for minimum wage in an art store where she tapes up her caricatures of annoying customers to a wall-of-shame behind the front counter. And, as if she doesn’t feel stuck enough, Jess, Max, and Vicky soon find new places, but Grace is still searching.
The comic strip-like gags work in this full-length format because they pack more of a wistful, cringing smack. After the four have been trying to salvage what’s left of the belongings they stored in the suddenly-flooded basement, Vicky remarks that “at least it’s not overflowing backed up faeces like before.” Sure, Wilson’s style can be sketchbook-y in places, but mainly its seeming casualness fits the book’s subject like weekend sweatpants.
And there aren’t just character-driven insights here into “flat hunting during a housing crisis in one of the most expensive cities in the world,” but into class and sexual politics. On vacation, Grace wades through cultural awkwardnesses and swims up against all sorts of social barriers. In one instance, Jess and Grace pass a sandwich board with a newspaper-headline about benefits cuts, even as a woman huddles next to a shuttered shop door. In a running motif, Wilson returns to the casually sexist laddish “banter,” not a thing of generations passed.
What lingers most in Saving Grace, finally, is a sense of 20-something struggles mingling humour with sharp realism.