Now, we don’t like to damn with faint praise. We like to be clear and unequivocal and we do that because we know, for the most part, no-one has enough money to waste on things that are just alright. We want to be able to steer you, or help steer you, towards or away from books that should or should not occupy your time. Sometimes, however, it’s complicated. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to a debut work.
Saving Grace concerns (for the most part) a young woman called Grace who is working a crappy job, sharing a flat with three friends, and idly wondering if her lazy doodles could ever be something more. The art in Saving Grace is what you would politely called scrappy. The words preppy amateur came to mind. But then we are big fans of David Shrigley here at Bookmunch and big fans of Anders Nilsen’s Monologues for the Coming Plague and Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes. We love David Porcellino and know he would say that his early art was punky. Ditto Adrien Tomine and Optic Nerve. We are fine with comics artists having particular styles. Provided they have things to say, of course. When you get by the art in Saving Grace, you start to see (a) Wilson is engaging with what it is to be a young in Britain right now (which we like and applaud and wish more people sought to do) and (b) Wilson is funny in a BBC3 sitcom kind of way. Regarding that (b) we are not seeking to disparage or damn with faint praise – there have been a lot of good sitcoms on BBC3 and Wilson definitely has a sitcom eye for a good line and a strong comedic situation.
Where Wilson is slightly weaker is on holding the line. She dallies briefly with inhabiting the lives of her friends. For the most part Saving Grace is seen through the eyes of Grace; briefly we lurk elsewhere. But as with the art it is brief and scrappy and feels somewhat tacked on (like she couldn’t quite decide if she wanted the book to be all Grace, or refracted through the eyes of four young women, and ended up with something that is not entirely one thing or another). And the story itself doesn’t strictly speaking break any new ground (young woman, hates her job, has to look for a new place to live, has dreams of brighter creative future). And yet, for all that, there is something to all of this, something interesting and original that suggests Wilson could do something better down the line. If you popped Wilson’s work alongside something like, say, Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days, Saving Grace would suffer horribly – because Glidden is a writer who can think about herself and the world simultaneously in a very interesting way. Conversely, however, if you popped Wilson’s book next to Margaret Atwood’s execrable Angel Catbird (which was favourably reviewed in the Guardian which means either their reviewer really can’t tell the difference between something good and something bad or, more likely, the Guardian would not wish to say a bad word about Margaret Atwood which is just sad) … well, Wilson is looking down on Atwood from the top of the Rockefeller Centre. So there is hope here. Potential. Wilson should be encouraged. And if that means you take a risk and shell out your hard earned on a writer that might prove to be interesting come book 2 or book 3… then so be it. We’d stake our colours to the mast and say this is a good fledgling effort.
Any Cop?: You might say we’ve damned with faint praise but we think Wilson shows promise even if her book errs on the side of being ordinary.