The title of Ilya’s latest graphic novel is a pun of sorts – in that much of the novel takes place within a room and at times there is love, of sorts, there but it is also an ambiguous question, as in: is there room for etc etc etc. How clever you feel this title is may determine your reaction to the book to a greater or lesser extent.
We have Pamela Green, a novelist who has carved something of a niche (albeit a niche comprised of diminishing returns) for herself writing chick lit under the name Leonie Hart, and a homeless young man who goes by the name of Cougar. Pamela has reached something of a turning point, having decided to write something true, something with meaning, not the usual shit, but she is lonely and fed up and her agent is not much use to her. Cougar is a young man given to exchanging blow jobs in return for a lift up the motorway. It takes about 60 pages for the two characters to intersect and, despite the fact that Ilya has an interesting way of intercutting the action (shifting from blue for Cougar to pink or Pamela, often within the same page, and then intermingling the pallet later on), it all feels a bit – well, bitty, for a while. When Pamela offers Cougar a place to stay, the narrative picks up pace and the books creates a momentum for itself, as the two unlikely bedfellows rub along together (both figuratively and literally). The dynamic between the two – Cougar viewing love, or at least sex, as something of a commodity that can be bargained with, Pamela not really listening to the voice of good reason in her head and imagining a future for herself, a woman of forty something and a boy, virtually, of 17.
Of course it can’t really work and it doesn’t entirely, both the relationship and the book are flawed, and they share flaws, which is interesting. Some of it has to do with humour. We have all met the kinds of people who are constantly echoing puns back at you off every word you say – and it may be that those kinds of people strike comedy gold every once in a while but more often than not, it’s just irritating. It’s kind of irritating in Room for Love. There is also a sense in which the book seems quite pleased with itself for being edgy and contemporary (ooh, homelessness, bisexuality, ooh) – when in fact it could just as easily be an episode of My Family if you took out the occasional swearword. What’s more, and again this feels interesting, just as the book takes time to coalesce so when the relationship starts to break down, so does the book – becoming less interesting (so it isn’t – or isn’t entirely – a case of the author’s intention to seduce and the reject the reader because the book becomes less fun and more dull).
Saying all of this, though, whilst the plotting and the characterisation sometimes leave something to be desired, the art itself is lovely, as distinctive in its own way as, say, Rutu Modan. Ilya is strong on colour, strong on line. Where he places his characters, how he has them look, the expressions they wear – all of these things betray a real talent and it is in these areas where you temper your judgment of the weaknesses of Room for Love. In the end it is a book that shows promise, in which various elements war and clash. You leave the book feeling Ilya could go either way.
Any Cop?: Not quite a red hot recommendation but not quite a steer clear of this either.