Gut gegen Nordwind / Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer

Write to me Emmi. Writing is like kissing, but without lips. Writing is kissing with the mind.
It begins by chance: Emma Rothner, a married woman, accidentally writes a couple of emails to Leo Leike. 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. (No, it’s nothing like You’ve Got Mail.)
The greatest comfort of the virtual world is the chance to spin yourself constant convenient fictions: an email acquaintance, a Twitter friend, a blogger crush. Emmi and Leo’s emails perfectly capture the fun of every online relationship. In the beginning, they are cutely unselfconscious. The initial exchanges are teasing and flirty, both trying to outsmart the other while projecting a tailored image of themselves, not altogether disconnected from the truth, but still only a silhouette of their real self.
Soon, piece by piece, Leo fashions out a fantasy-Emmi from her letters, while Emmi makes wild guesses about the kind of man Leo Leike is from the kind of words he writes. Their letters get increasingly charming and funny. An affair plays out only through email, completely eliminating the physical and yet, has this wonderful simmering sensuality. Even so, as their feelings grow, the casual becomes exhausting. They can’t get enough of each other. It begins to take a toll on their lives. Long emails every couple of days turn into short one-liners every few hours, goodnight kisses and wake-up ‘calls.’ Each tries to fill up the blanks in his life with a seemingly perfect alternative.

Emmi, married Emmi with her husband and her children, begins to act like an infatuated teenager even as Leo Leike conjures up in his penpal a beautiful woman of his dreams to reassemble his recently broken heart. Conversations for the sake of conversations start to spring up, and you wonder when it will appear, the fateful “when shall we meet?” But the story catches you by surprise. Emmi’s escapism takes on a whole new level when she tries to set Leo up with her best friend. It is finally time to ask the question – what do they mean to each other? Where do they go from here?
I don’t have much to say about this book other than that I am fascinated by its somewhat easy profundity. The interesting thing was that I did not particularly identify with either Emmi or Leo, but I did imagine what I would say and do in their shoes and this revealed to me new uncharted sides to myself. The writer in me was wildly inspired by most of their exchanges. The ending was remarkable, I choose not to read the sequel.
I saw a nice review of this book over at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, and the book has been on my mind since then. I picked up Gut Gegen Nordwind as one of my usual frantic attempts to stay in touch with German, but halfway through the book I found myself so completely enchanted, I decided to read the English version as well. The German original works slightly better, because: 

1. The letters Emmi and Leo write each other which sound perfectly normal in German are a tad bit too formal in English.

2. The original title and appearance, as Caroline also mentions on her blog, are much more suitable for the content. The English title and cover seem too young-adult or chicklit, so much so that the book could not only disappoint the younger readers it attracts, but keep away a lot of people – like me – who may love it. The title gives the impression that it is a romance, which in the strictest sense, it is not – it is a book about… people. Simply that.

I’d recommend Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer to anyone who has experienced inexplicable attachment to something fictional, someone virtual, and above all, to anyone who likes to write.

Favourite excerpt:

In what we call “real life”- 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.

But with you, dear Leo, I’m not afraid to be spontaneous, or true to my inner self. I don’t need to think about what I can tell you and what I can’t. I just witter on blithely. It does me so much good!!! And that’s all down to you, Leo. That’s why you’ve become so essential to me: you take me just as I am. Sometimes you rein me in, sometimes you ignore things, sometimes you take things the wrong way. But your patience, the fact that you stick with me, shows me that I can be who I am.

Someone out there likes the Emmi who makes no effort to be a good person, who plays up the weaknesses that would otherwise be suppressed. He’s interested in Emmi as she really is; he likes her precisely because she’s aware that there’s so much of herself she cannot reveal to others, this bundle of moods, this harbour of self-doubt, this jumble of contradictions.

9 thoughts on “Gut gegen Nordwind / Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer”

  1. This sounds very interesting. I am constantly a bit guilty about not even trying to better my German, and I´m putting this on my Wishlist at amazon as a reminder to challenge myself a bit and explore German literature. It would be nice to get something in German for the Kindle, as I imagine one can get a built-in dictionary in German as well as the one in English, which is extremely handy. Must explore that possibility! You may just have got me going here… 😉


  2. The letter-format and relatively straightforward language made it easier to return to German after a long break, instead of something heavy and literary. My German version wasn't on Kindle, so I didn't get to try that, but you're right, it would be interesting!


  3. I almost thought I was looking at a review of A Virtual Love by Andrew Blackman but the cover was a dead giveaway. 🙂
    I just love the passage you quoted at the beginning – it's so wonderful.
    This sounds like something I would enjoy, as I'm always fascinated by relationships – be they in real life or virtual, friendship or love. Thanks for pointing out the translation differences. My German won't be enough to get me through a novel but at least I know what to expect from the English translation.
    And once again, this reminds me how much I miss writing letters …on paper…with a pen….


  4. Delia, The translation is actually quite good. The translator is Jamie Bulloch, I've read his version of Mesmerized by Alissa Walser before and that was also well translated. The formalness of tone was unavoidable, perhaps.
    The quote is wonderful, isn't it? Just the thing that would appeal to readers and writers. I'd love to read your thoughts on the book some day. Meanwhile, adding A Virtual Love to my wishlist. 🙂


  5. Yes, that quote is really wonderful, I like it more and more.
    I hope you get to read Andrew's book; from all the characters I really loved reading about the grandfather – he represents the past.
    Funny, I just looked at my review (which is also on my blog – friendly hint) and noticed I've read the book in March, 2 years ago.


  6. I read the Amazon summary of the book, Delia, and it does sound interesting. If it has stayed with you for two years, I must read it. I don't remember reading your review, though. Going over to your site for it now!


  7. Should I take that as a compliment on my review? Thanks! I am sure you'll like the book… do tell me if you are reading anything interesting these days! 🙂


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