Sunday, August 28, 2011

Love Virtually: (Loved the book, read it - if not the review!)

It made sense that after reading Love Virtually, I looked for its presence on Twitter. And there it was, @LoveVirtually, trying to map readers around the world. The book – originally in German by Daniel Glattauer – is a modern day love story between two strangers over email. It's an appropriate romance for 2011, in a world where Facebook is breaking up marriages on one hand and reuniting lovers on the other. In fact, in a world dominated by social media, an email romance seems almost quaint. And in a world even more dominated by the physical expression of love, an emotional affair is, frankly, refreshing.

The plot starts with an accidental email from Emmi to Leo, which slowly develops into an email flirtation. Curiosity abounds, with Emmi taking the first step: 'Either Google's never heard of you, or it knows how to keep you hidden,' and Leo following it up with the first guess: 'Your shoe size is 36. You're petite, bubbly, and you've got short, dark hair. And you effervesce when you speak. Am I right?'

Emmi is married, while Leo is in an on again/off again relationship. For both, the email exchange takes a life of its own. Emmi finds herself getting jealous of Leo's love life, and Leo wonders if Emmi is unhappy in her marriage as she devotes so much time to emailing him. The banter takes a turn when Emmi asks Leo if he's wearing pyjamas and Leo wonders if she sleeps naked. They decide to 'meet'. Not really; but go to an assigned café for an hour,and later go online to hazard a guess over email as to who the other person was. Soon after this, Leo's mother passes away, and their bond becomes stronger. Drunken emails reveal real wanting stirring behind the mask of friendship. And in an attempt to prove to herself that Leo is only a friend, she sets him up with her friend, Mia, and finds herself madly jealous when they actually get along. And then, it's no longer a game: they are in love. You have to read the book to find out how it ends.

The story is told through email exchanges and nothing else. There is no narration, no description other than what the characters offer each other, and the reader knows only as much as they do. But the passion that language allows, harking back to the 'original' romance of love letters, coupled with the urgency of instant communication, makes the story both fast moving and very compelling. There are moral issues here: Emmi is married. She might not been physically cheating on her husband, but having a few glasses of wine with Leo over email exchanges is her way of going on a date with him. There are also human issues here: Leo finds himself utterly in love with a married woman, who seems to feel the same way. And then there are reality issues: Emmi's husband finds out about the depth of their emotional connect.

The third character in the book, to me, is time. In an era when email is instantaneous, an hour's delay can be catastrophic and a whole day, impossible to bear! Each email exchange is qualified with the time it took to reply: 'Five minutes later', 'Fifty seconds later', 'One minute later'. It hints at Emmi and Leo's impatience and confusion at certain emails, and adds the element of an unseen offline life to the story. The brutal honesty of it all makes for utterly interesting reading.

Love Virtually is a book you can finish in a few hours. I read it on a flight. But I couldn't stop thinking about about words and what they mean to people, and how we can read moods through the placement of words. In time, Emmi and Leo want to attach voices to these words and leave voicemails for each other. But they never translate the curiosity to actual phone calls, favoring the literal language of love. And Glattauer succeeds in giving two distinct, decipherable voices to his protagonists, Emmi Rothner and Leo Leike.

Ultimately, the story is about wanting to keep the fantasy, but wanting to realise it as well. When Leo suggests they (finally) meet up and Emmi asks why, his reply: 'Insight. Relief. Catharsis. Clarity. Friendship. The solution to a personality puzzle which I created and then blew out of all proportion.' She teases him further, asking him how he kisses, to which he says: 'I kiss like I write'. Her reply: 'That's incredibly big headed of you.'

As the jacket cover says: 'Writing is kissing with the mind.'


Hezbut Tawheed

Thank you for sharing

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Buzz said...

Interesting last line. Makes me want to read the book. :D

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egg style said...

Now this is a lovely book. Pity about the ending!!

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