I discovered ‘Love Virtually’ by Daniel Glattauer (published as ‘Gut gegen Nordwind’ in German), during one of my browsing sessions at the bookstore. The way these browsing sessions yield up treasures is amazing! I finished reading it recently. Here is the review.
Summary of the story
I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the inside flap of the book.
It begins by chance : Leo receives e-mails 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 desires. 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?
What I think
‘Love Virtually’ is a novel which is composed entirely of emails. I have heard of, or read, other novels based on emails before – for example, ‘e’ by Matt Beaumont and ‘Who Moved My Blackberry’ by Lucy Kellaway. But both these were comic novels set in the workplace. ‘Love Virtually’ is a novel which touches more on the romantic side of the internet world, on people becoming friends with strangers whom they meet online and falling in love with them. It is about two people who meet accidentally over email and how they become friends and talk about anything and everything, how they start playfully flirting with each other and how things start moving closer after that. In some ways it is a novel of modern times, a novel of our age, where people have more Email / Facebook / Twitter friends than real-world friends and the dividing line between the real-world and the virtual world is getting blurred and is disappearing. The conversations between Leo and Emmi, the two main characters, are interesting and in some places quite fascinating. The ending of the book was surprising and bittersweet but in some ways predictable.
I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.
Guessing the age
You write like a thirty-year old. But you’re around forty, let’s say forty-two. What makes me think I’m right? A thirty-year-old doesn’t read Like on a regular basis. The average age of Like subscribers is around fifty. But you’re younger, because you work with websites, so you could be thirty or even a fair bit younger than that. On the other hand, no thirty-year-old sends a mass e-mail to clients to wish them “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”. And finally, your name is Emmi, i.e. Emma. I know three Emmas and they’re all over forty. Thirty-year-olds aren’t called Emma. It’s only people under twenty who are Emmas again. But you’re not under twenty, or you’d use words like “cool”, “wicked”, “lush”, “totally”, “awesome” and suchlike. And you wouldn’t begin sentences with capital letters, or write in full sentences either. But more importantly, you’d have better things to do than chat with a humourless man who might or might not be a professor and be interested in how young or old he thinks you might be. Another thing about “Emmi” : if your name were Emma, and you wrote as if you were younger – perhaps because you felt much younger than you were – you wouldn’t call yourself Emma, but Emmi. In short, my dear Emmi Rothner, you write as if you’re thirty, but in fact you’re forty-two. Am I right? Your shoe size is 36. You are petite, bubbly, and you’ve got short, dark hair. And you effervesce when you speak. Am I right?
Thinking and loving
I’m thinking of you a lot, in the mornings, in the afternoons, in the evenings, at night, in the periods in-between and just before and after – and also during.
(Comment : Has the love of one person for another been articulated more passionately than this? :))
Isn’t it exciting that you can get involved with someone you don’t know, someone you’ve never set eyes on and probably never will, someone you expect nothing from, of whom you can’t be sure that you’ll ever get anything halfway adequate in return? That’s very unusual in a man, and that’s what I like about you.
So you’re a man who’s only interested in a woman at tbe beginning and at the end : when he wants to get her, and just before he’s about to lose her for good. You find the time in between – which some people call “being together” – either too boring or too stressful, or both.
Family Life and Perfection
My family life is good, but by no means perfect. “Family life” as such has very little to do with perfection, and a great deal to do with endurance, patience, indulgence and children’s dislocated arms. And here allow me to draw on my years of experience which – I’m sorry to say – you and Mia lack. “Family idyll” is an oxymoron : you can have family or idyll, but not both.
Nothing to say
Leo : It’s sad, Emmi, we’ve got nothing more to say to each other.
Emmi : Maybe we never did.
Leo : Well, for two people who’ve got nothing to say to each other, we’ve been chatting away one hell of a lot.
Talking for the first time
When you’re talking to someone for the first time, questions are quite hard to say out loud. Particularly for women. Women are at a vocal disadvantage with questions, because their voices have to go up at the end of a sentence, i.e. they’re forced up into the higher registers. And if they’re nervous as well, they might make gurgling noises. Do you know what I mean? Gurgling feels stupid.
What stunned me most of all, Emmi, was how you say the word “toes”. I’ve never heard such a graceful, soft, dusky, clear “toes” before, and I’d never have imagined you would say it like that. No shrieking, nor gurgling, no crowing. A really beautiful, soft, elegant, sleek, gentle, tiptoed “toes”. And “whisky”, that sounded really classy too. The “wh” like a rope swishing through the air; the “ky” like a key to you…hmm…bedroom.
(Comment : I loved this passage, for its generous and beautiful use of adjectives :))
“What do you have in mind?”
Emmi : What do you have in mind, Leo? You’re the one wanting this…meeting, may I remind you.
Leo : I’ve got nothing at all in mind. I just want to see the woman who’s been with me for months, who’s made a mark on my life. I want to hear more of her lovely voice, more than “whisky” and “toes”. I want to watch her lips as she says, “What do you have in mind, Leo? You’re the one who wanted this…meeting, may I remind you.” How do the corners of her mouth move, how do her eyes shine, how do her eyebrows rise when she utters sentences like these? What expression does she have when she’s being ironic? What traces have the years of nightly north wind left on her cheeks? Hundreds of things like these interest me about Emmi.
A Little Bit
Emmi : Are you still just a little bit in love with me?
Leo : A little bit?
Emmi : Goodnight. I’m very much in love with you. I’m terrified of our meeting. I can’t imagine – I can hardly bear to imagine – that then I’m going to lose you.
A hailstorm’s like a taste of the end of the world. You’ve got this strange ochre veil hanging over the sky, all of a sudden it’s covered by a dark-grey curtain, and then billions of these white pebbles hurtle to earth at breakneck speed.
Dear Leo, please try to put yourself in my shoes. I must confess I haven’t had such an intense emotional exchange with anyone for a long time. I’d never have believed that this was possible. In my e-mails to you I can be the real Emmi, in a way that I can’t be at any other time. In what we call “real life” – if you want to be successful, if you want to get on in the long term – you always have to come to some kind of compromise with your own emotions : I can’t overreact now! I have accept this! I have to ignore that! – You’re forever having to tailor your emotions to the circumstances, you go easy on the people you love, you slip into your hundred little daily roles, you juggle, you balance, you weigh things up so as not to jeopardize the entire structure, because you yourself have a stake in it.
Yesterday you wrote : “We must not start intruding into each other’s private life.” I’ve got something to tell you : what we’re doing here, the things we’re talking about, they already belong to our private lives. They’re private and nothing but, starting with our very first e-mails and steadily escalating until today. We don’t write about our jobs, we don’t say what our interests, or our hobbies. We behave as if there’s no such thing as culture, we completely ignore politics, and by and large we get by without even mentioning the weather. The only thing we do, the thing that makes us forget everything else, is to intrude into each other’s private life; I enter yours, and you enter mine. We could hardly have been more intrusive into each other’s private life. You should start facing the fact that you’re intimately acquainted with my private life, if not the part of it that you call my favourite subject. I might even say that the situation couldn’t be more different.
‘Love Virtually’ is a delightful modern love story. The back page says that the sequel to this book, ‘Every Seventh Wave’, is coming out this year. I can’t wait to read it. If you are an internet / email person, you will be able to identify with this book and you will love it. I did.