Daniel Glattauer: Love Virtually (2011) aka Gut gegen Nordwind (2006) A German Novel in E-Mails
“Write to me, Emmi. Writing is like kissing, but without lips. Writing is kissing with the mind.’
It begins by chance: Leo receives emails in error from an unknown woman called Emmi. Being polite he replies, and Emmi writes back. A few brief exchanges are all it takes to spark a mutual interest in each other, and soon Emmi and Leo are sharing their innermost secrets and longings. The erotic tension simmers, and it seems only a matter of time before they will meet in person. But they keep putting off the moment – the prospect both excites and unsettles them. And after all, Emmi is happily married. Will their feelings for each other survive the test of a real-life encounter?
And if so, what then?
Love Virtually is a funny, fast-paced and utterly absorbing novel, with plenty of twists and turns, about a love affair conducted entirely by email.
I have already read Love Virtually because the original came out in Germany in 2006. I even read it in hardback, a rare thing, as I was so curious to find out what the hype was all about. I must say, I have not often been this engrossed. You start it, you read and you do not stop before the end. After, let’s say, two - three pages you will have forgotten that this is a novel, you will be sure that you are reading a real e-mail exchange between two people. That is quite an achievement. I am really pleased to see that Glattauer’s book will be published in English in 2011.
Emmi writes accidentally to Leo and they keep on writing to each other because each one likes the tone of the other’s e-mails. And because they both imagine each other. Without knowing each other they develop crushes. There is only one little complication. Emmi is happily married. It seems only natural she does not want to meet Leo. What if he was anything like the man she imagines? Still she can’t stop writing. They tease and flirt and exchange their hidden dreams and wishes and get to know each other better and better. They also arrange a date without really meeting each other. They just both know that they are at the same restaurant at the same time. Later they compare their impressions and try to find out if they did recognize each other.
Leo and Emmi are both intellectuals. This is important to know, as that determines the nature of their exchange. Even though they tease and flirt, they philosophize and analyze a great deal too.
If you want to find out if they really meet you have to read the novel. Daniel Glattauer wrote a sequel (Alle sieben Wellen 2009) that has been published a while back. It is also very good but I would have preferred if he had stopped after Gut gegen Nordwind. The ending of Love Virtually is very special. The sequel spoils it.
I think the idea of having a crush on someone you only know by e-mail (I know the movie with Meg Ryan, but Love Virtually is very different) is interesting and Glattauer provides an in-depth analysis of this premiss. Love Virtually is highly entertaining but still deep. Personally I like epistolary novels a great deal. This is just a variation on the same theme.
A word on the English marketing of this book. Just have a look at the German cover. Don’t you think it looks much nicer? I can understand that the title was problematic. Gut gegen Nordwind would have to be translated as “Good against the North wind”. This is far more poetical than Love Virtually but does this mean anything outside of Germany? The North wind is a bit like the Californian Santa Ana winds, but cold, very cold. He does also carry a nervous energy and is a bit depressing. I must admit, I am not sure I would have bought the book with the title Love Virtually and such a cover. What do you think about the covers and the titles?