This may be a bit undignified because I am likely to gush somewhat about this book and its sequel. In the top left corner of the cover is a quote by author Wendy Holden. No philosophical platitudes from her, all she says is “Just what you need” In my case she was bang on. Having just finished Red Riding 1974 by David Peace, possibly the bleakest book I’ve read for some time, if not the bleakest book known to mankind (although a friend who is reading it on her skiing holiday after seeing the review, sent me a Facebook message saying “bleak is too nice a word for this book”), I was in need of an antidote, I needed to cleanse my palate. What better way to do so than with a romance.
Do you remember Valentine’s Day? I urged you all to listen to the Afternoon Play on Radio 4 and told the story of my wireless encounter last year with David Tennant? The radio version of Love Virtually was a beautifully performed adaptation of Daniel Glattauer’s incredibly popular book. Listening to it again and its sequel on Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t see why I wouldn’t read the source material (albeit in translation). Cue: brand new copies from my library!
In our hectic lives dominated by constant electronic traffic, it is quite easy to misspell an email address or hammer out a message and send it to the wrong recipient. This is exactly what happens to Emmi Rothner. In an attempt to cancel her subscription to a magazine she inadvertently emails Leo Leike. They exchange a few polite, brief emails, but soon come to realise they enjoy each other’s virtual company and their friendship blossoms. They are both bright people and enjoy philosophising with each other, but as the relationship develops there is also a good deal of flirting. They don’t want to meet; Leo has his image of Emmi and is happy with words, Emmi worries that the “real” Leo can only be a disappointment compared to the email version. This agreement is not without its frustrations as Leo points out
We’re communicating in a vacuum…There are no people around us. We don’t inhabit anywhere. We don’t have ages. We don’t have faces. We make no distinction between day and night. We don’t live in any particular time. All we have is our computer screens and we share a hobby: we’re both interested in a complete stranger. Brilliant!…I’m seriously interested in you, dear Emmi! I don’t know why, but I do know there is a clear reason for it.
An added complication to their relationship is the fact that Emmi is married. She doesn’t see this as an issue whereas Leo can’t understand why a happily married woman would want to carry on an email relationship without telling her husband about it. But they just can’t help themselves, no matter how much they fall out, argue and upset each other they still come back to their inboxes.
If this were a book only about Emmi’s and Leo’s infatuation with each other it would be thin in content and volume, but Glattauer manages to explore some of the psychology behind their relationship and what it is that makes them seem so ideally suited to each other. His words help too. There are several extremely romantic passages, mainly coming from Leo.
…If there’s anyone who isn’t just anybody then it’s you. Not to me, at any rate. You’re like a second voice inside me, accompanying me through the day. You’ve turned my inner monologue into a dialogue. You enrich my emotional life…
…Write to me, Emmi. Writing is like kissing, but without lips. Writing is kissing with the mind.
How can you not fall in love with someone who writes such lines?!
The main concern for the characters in this book is the question of where the relationship is going and how it will develop. The constant discussion of whether to “meet up” lingers and is an underlying theme for the two virtual friends; they debate it at length, but they also ignore it, as though the issue will go away if they don’t mention it. For the reader, the idea of Emmi and Leo meeting seems a natural eventuality, but at the same time once they meet, everything changes and I was very much in love with their correspondence.
The epistolary structure of Love Virtually won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoyed it. In fact I loved it so much I read it twice! I was totally engrossed, although I felt like I was eavesdropping at times. The translation seemed flawless and the story zipped along at the pace of most email exchanges. I found the experience of reading Emmi’s and Leo’s story refreshing. At times I felt like I’d just come in from a long, invigorating run; endorphins buzzing in my brain and slightly breathless.
Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing Every Seventh Wave, the sequel to Love Virtually, and later this week I will be posting a Q&A with Jamie Bulloch, one of the translators of both books.