When you’re reading a sweet, tender story of romance, you don’t expect to be on pavements with holes in them, or at bus stops, or held in the routines of the morning’s commute, and you certainly don’t expect that setting to contribute to the story’s charm. That, however, is exactly what Tahlia Newland has achieved here. There are just two characters, each with a self-image that’s far from flattering. The girl thinks she has ‘thunder thighs’ and an expanding waistline and yet she ‘can’t give up eating ice cream’. The man sees her as a goddess and himself as an ordinary mortal. He suspects she finds his bow tie unfashionable but to her, it’s cute. And so the story develops in this world of ‘rusty fences, cracked paths, faded paintwork and builders’ rubble’.
But it’s also a world which has ‘the fragrance of Jasmine in the warm air’ and it’s this juxtaposition of mundane everyday elements and the dreams and fantasies which we all carry that leads the whole to a very satisfying conclusion. The strange holes which keep appearing are part of the crumbling everyday setting and yet, in the story, they have a generative, symbolic function. They’re an excellent metaphor, used with restraint and sensitivity. This is magical realism at a seemingly simple and yet powerful level. And it’s all in the characters and the use of language. Their feelings are ‘golden’, ‘brilliant’. Magnolia leaves carpet the ground, but the hole contains sticky-looking mud. The ‘thunder-thighed’ woman has eyes with ‘endless depths’, the shy, tongue-tied man becomes a rescuing knight. And it seems that the holes were never there at all.