Tag Archives: Katharina Bielenberg

Every Seventh Wave – Daniel Glattauer (trans. Jamie Bulloch & Katharina Bielenberg)

imgres-1Love Virtually finishes fittingly but abruptly.  I’ve seen other bloggers say they felt a sequel wasn’t necessary.  You could argue that second Lindt bunny on Easter Monday wasn’t necessary, but it was very nice!

It is difficult for me to write much about what happens in Every Seventh Wave because anything I write will spoil the plot of this book and Love Virtually.  And I do hate to spoil anything for anyone (although I did inadvertently tell all my bookclub pals the end of On the Beach the other day à la the Netflix advert).  I read Every Seventh Wave in a day, then went back and read chunks of it again and I actually think Glattauer wrote a really decent sequel with this book, not overly mushy or sentimental, it doesn’t feel sloppy or rushed.  If anything I think it’s well thought through, polished and more balanced than Love Virtually.  In Love Virtually I always felt Glattauer’s characterisation of Leo was more believable than Emmi, his personality and desires were better developed than hers and he was given more opportunity to show who he was.  In Every Seventh Wave Glattauer gives Leo lots of great romantic lines again (“..you are part of me.  I carry you around with me always, across all continents and emotional landscapes..” melt), making him the sort of literary character a weak willed reader like me can easily fall for for a few days, but I felt that Emmi really came into her own in this book.

In Love Virtually it often seemed as though Emmi was a woman who didn’t really know her own mind, like she was going through a crisis of confidence; what is her life about and where is it leading her?  Don’t get me wrong, Glattauer gives her plenty of gutsy lines, she often shows her intellect and quick understanding of a situation as well as a sense of humour, but although she never admits it there is an underlying lack of confidence as though she really isn’t sure what she is doing or why.

In Every Seventh Wave, despite her home life almost imploding and going through a lot of personal hurt, she comes out the other side knowing her mind clearly.  Leo is the one being completely dim in this book.  Emmi sends him so many veiled hints about her feelings and her life – he just never quite understands or asks her the right questions.  Her correspondence is measured and seems well thought through, she wants the penny to drop for Leo without her having to spell everything out for him, but oh my word, it takes him a while – I had to stop myself from screaming “wake up Leo ffs – why can’t you understand what she’s telling you!”

On reflection, I think Every Seventh Wave is a much more romantic book than Love Virtually.  There is more at stake for them in this book, you could argue they’ve even got more to lose.  There are some fantastic drunken emails from Leo (a lesson to us all; stay away from the computer when you’ve had a few), and some funny straight talking ones from Emmi, she even gets her own romantic lines, like when she tells Leo about the Seventh Wave.

One thing I do really love about both books, although it seems quite old fashioned, is Leo and Emmi’s salutations to each other and they way they often conclude their emails.  There is a lot of “Leo, my dear”  “Emmi, my love”  “dearest Emmi” “adieu my good friend” on so on.  I’m surprised at myself, because normally that sort of thing would grate, but I adored it.  In fact, Trueblood and I have perfected the art of this sort of speak in our texts to each other – pathetic, I know, but it keeps us amused!

Again, the translation seems flawless, although as a German speaker I did notice some bits that were obvious Germanisms, but friends who have read it were oblivious, so credit must be given to the husband and wife translating team.  In fact I was so fascinated by the translation process I asked Jamie Bulloch if he would be kind enough to answer a few questions about his work.  He kindly agreed and I will be posting his answers tomorrow.

I definitely think it’s worth reading both books, they go nicely together and there’s enough in both to keep you interested – there will not be another Emmi and Leo book anyway.  I’d like to finish with a lovely email from Leo to Emmi which explains a little of how he feels and gives a flavour of the quality of the translation.

Subject: Meaningful stuff

Let me get this clear, Emmi.

  1. What you mean to me means at least as much to me as what I mean to you.
  2. It’s precisely because you do mean so much to me that it means a lot to me that I might also mean a lot to you.
  3. If you hadn’t meant so much to me, it wouldn’t have mattered to me how much I mean to you.
  4. But as it does really matter, this means that you mean so much to me that it has to matter how much I mean to you.
  5. If you knew how much you meant to me, you would understand why I don’t want to stop meaning something to you.
  6. Conclusion one: You obviously had no idea how much you meant to me.
  7. Conclusion two: Maybe you do now.
  8. I’m tired.  Goodnight.

Love Virtually – Daniel Glattauer (trans. Jamie Bulloch & Katharina Bielenberg)

imgres-2This 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.