Grace Wilson: ‘knows all about the queasy feeling that comes with not knowing where you will soon be sleeping’. Photograph: Molizane de Souza/Grace Wilson
The star of the funniest and most perspicacious memoir I’ve read this year is a twentysomething called Grace. An art school graduate who still dreams of a creative life, she works in an artist supplies store in London, and lives with three friends – Vicky, Jess and Maxine – in a house where the rent is beyond extortionate, and the kitchen ceiling is permanently sprouting mushrooms. The girls have asked their landlord, the Mercedes-driving slimeball Mr Zanetti, time and again to make some repairs, but their pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears.
One morning, however, he pulls up at their door and after a few customary “jokes” (one involves the power of semen to cure acne) and a little light sexual harassment, he announces that the house will shortly be completely renovated. “Whoop, whoop!” they cry, preparing to dance a jig. But there’s more. “And then I shall sell it,” says Mr Zanetti. He gives them four weeks’ notice, though if they can find £1m, they’re very welcome – ha ha – to give him a call.
Saving Grace. Photograph: Jonathan Cape
What follows is the story of one young woman’s struggle to find a room in the most expensive city in the world. At first, Grace tries to convince herself their eviction might turn out to be a good thing. As one of her housemates points out, perhaps this will galvanise them; they’ve all had the pause button pressed for far too long. But reality soon bites. “It’s a cosy single,” says one landlord, showing Grace a room so tiny the only cupboard space is across the hall – hers for £720 a month, plus council tax. “I can get something to go over that hole,” says another, as she gazes at the yawning gap in the floorboards next to a soggy mattress on a damp floor. In despair, there are days when all she wants to do is lie in bed and eat cheese puffs.
Saving Grace is, first of all, a brilliant commentary on the housing crisis. Its author, Grace Wilson, knows all about the queasy feeling that comes with not knowing where you will soon be sleeping, and the way it affects everything – everything – else in your life, from work to relationships to, ultimately, your self-confidence. But it’s so much more than that. It’s hilarious, not only about rapacious landlords and their creepy ways, but about friendship, work, holidays and sex, too. It’s hard to imagine a funnier scene than the one when Maxine, drunk and having rowed with her boyfriend yet again, makes the mistake of going home with an Iggy Pop-alike who wants to spank her with a bit of precious rock memorabilia (“Did I ever tell you about when I used to roadie for the Who, Max?”). On the tube, where I read it, people looked at me warily, this sniggering woman with a large rainbow-coloured comic book in her hands.