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Review: 'Room for Love' sounds like an idea for a porno or for a horror movie but is actually terrific

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks

It sounds either like an idea for a porno or for a horror movie: romance novelist Pamela Green is terribly lonely after a painful divorce. Her husband has left her a house that's too large and that even her cat has gone. One day, after an unexpected encounter with him, Pamela runs into a youthful homeless man who will only identify himself as "Cougar". Cougar has survived on the streets of London for weeks, doing what virile young men do in order to survive. But Cougar is having a crisis, and Pamela invites this delightfully vivid spirit into her house and into her life – and from there some unexpected actions ensue.

Room for Love by Ilya

And though there is, predictably, some sex in this book, and though there is, predictably, some fear in this book, Room for Love plays out in ways that readers will both expect and not expect, events as complex and interesting as the human hearts that feel the passions that are very much on display in this book.

Yesterday in discussing Oscar Zarate's The Park, I noted that it and this book were two examples of what I called the new British naturalism, an approach to storytelling that told stories of mature adults, in very specific places, with a focus on real emotions. Room for Love gets its considerable power from the quiet way that the graphic novel plays out, with a close focus on the hothouse passions of the romance novelist who futilely strains to find deep human connections, and the young man who is good at finding intimacy but terrible at finding love.

Room for Love by Ilya

Room for Love is an adult book not because it takes in sex between a saggy-breasted, wrinkled fortysomething woman and a hot, sexually virile man. Room for Love is an adult book because Ilya is deliberate in his telling and because he takes so much time to develop his multifaceted characters. It's oversimplifying to call these two people a gigolo and a flailing romance novelist; these two characters are so alive on the page, so fully suffused with complex inner lives, that this becomes a tale of love found and love lost, safety found for a short while in the arms of another, and the question of how we can move beyond the profound pain that our lives can bring us.

When we first meet Pamela, she's appearing on a radio show as her penname Leonie Hart, proclaiming "romance is dead." Though the coloring is unspecific, we can see Pamela's gray hair, the profound wrinkles under her eyes, the pain that her life has brought her. Though Pamela has a legion of adoring fans (who are appalled by her statement), Pamela is blocked in several ways; as she tells her agent, "I've been lonely and lovelorn for far too long to keep up any pretense otherwise." Internet dating is a nightmare; even Pamela's cat has run away. So is our protagonist ready for something different; something – anything- that can snap her out of her funk.

Room for Love by Ilya

Cougar is the perfect guy for that, stinky shoes, rotten attitude and all. When Pamela accidentally gets Cougar kicked out from living under a bridge, she feels guilt and sadness for her actions, but also a rare frisson of danger, a sense of real mystery in her life coming to the fore.

The story of this ill-fated couple ends as you might predict and really how it has to end, but in the end anything else would be a major disappointment. In the end, Pamela gets her muse back, Cougar finds peace in his soul, and this becomes one of those stories that exists as a distant memory – with the perfect twist ending on the last few pages that makes the previous 139 pages read in a very different light.

Room for Love by Ilya

Ilya's artwork has a loose, bright sketchiness that fits his tale very well. People are rendered in just a few distinct shapes, implying more about the people in order to give us a real emotional portrait of them. By drawing his figures with minimalistic lines, Ilya gives the colors space to breathe and tell his story themselves, while he allows small lines and gestures to help lead the action. It fits a subtle tale like this very well to allow the subtle depiction of emotions to take center stage in the art; one small boldly drawn line can tell so much, which only gives this book still more emotional power.

I adored this wonderfully naturalistic graphic novel about a hothouse flower of a romance that was fated to wilt when it had to face the outside world.

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