It’s not what it looks like. Daniel Glattauer’s Love Virtually—translated from the German by Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch—is not the lightweight the cover hints at with its pale grays and muted pinks. The online correspondence is not punctuated by emoticons. This is not a happy-perky gimmick. Yes, it’s a tech-set romance, and, yes, that alone made me uneasy. The e-mail novel—the contemporary epistolary novel?—is a post-modern ploy that’s grown stale. Yes, seeing it on the shelves—though I was very much curious, given my own personal agenda—I judged it. It would have withered underneath my snootiness.
But I read it. I read it to assuage that curiosity. I told myself that I was willing to trust and, more importantly, that I was willing to indulge myself. I gave it a try, idly enough—my nonchalance would’ve been comic to me now if I’d seen it. After a long day at work, tucked into bed, the nightlight aglow, I opened the book.
Emmi Rothner and Leo Leike embark on an online correspondence that began with a mis-sent email, and explored thanks to sheer recklessness and luck. A friendship grows, and so does attraction. Contrivances are set up, as well as complicated opportunities to meet—and the near-constant restraint in their emails, masked by either glibness or frostiness. Ardor blooms, and passion—oh that passion—and then frustration, and, occasionally, poetry. This is a courting through words only, words that appear with very little fanfare on each of these characters’ computer screens.
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. You question, insist, parody, you engage me in conflict.
Oh, they’re both very flawed characters, embarrassingly so at times: Emmi can be neurotic, Leo can be a fool fixated on the most abstract of things. Also, Emmi is married. Both are intent to establish boundaries even as they test them—which is why it’s such a thrill to read whenever someone’s guard wavers.
Write to me, Emmi. Writing is like kissing, just without the lips. Writing is kissing with the mind. Emmi, Emmi, Emmi.
It’s a struggle to write a coherent post on this book, mostly because my notes are a mess fitting an emotional wreck. I wanted to slap Emmi senseless, I wanted to yell at her for deliberately choosing to be dense—I wanted to shake her into acting with resolve every once in a while, to own up. I wanted to tell Leo to get the fuck away from this crazy woman, that someone not annoying as the [sadly] very-real Emmi was out there, someone to match his eloquence, his earnestness, even his cool disdain for conventional romance. Oh, holy orphaned pandas, was that Leo fucking sexy—a fact sure to up my seething irritation with Emmi. Aherm. But what can I do?
Well. The book, I couldn’t close it, couldn’t leave it alone. I couldn’t bear to pause my witnessing of this romance unfolding. It’s a curious witnessing: It really does feel like you’ve opened a cache of exchanged emails—varying in tone, steadily amassing secrecy and risk. You read on: The language is naturally simple, and disarming when a character [usually Leo] opts to wax lyrical. Like someone who’s not supposed to see, but can’t help but know more—can’t help but feel something about this exchange, [something a certain blogger shouldn’t dwell over]—you have got to read on. Augh, I love this book so much.
* * *
At the end of the handful of hours that I read this book in its entirety, I told a good friend to run out and get a copy of it herself: “You’ll love this book, and then, when you’re done with it, you’ll want a wall handy to hurl it against.” I told her she needed to own this book, and not just because I was still planning to return to mine, still planning to relive pages, re-hate characters, re-swoon with several exchanges. I proved persuasive, if not a little annoying [and smug with the discovery of a book I knew she would like]—she got herself a copy.
And while she read it, she, too, exacted the same kind of smug-wheedling persuasion to any of her friends who would listen—any of her friends she knew would like the book: those who would find themselves in the pages, those who wish they were.
So I guess I planned to do the same here, with this blog post. To tell anyone out there that if you, like me, have ever wanted to uncover something secret, with the most delicious shame, read this book. That if you’ve ever been intrigued about how love can bloom or pop up or announce itself with a ping, read this book. That if you’ve ever wondered about the romance in a conversation with a stranger—that if you’ve ever reached out to someone, or wanted to be at the receiving end of words, words, words—please, read this book.
PSA: You can run to your nearest National Bookstore [I saw a couple in Cubao and Katipunan] to get Love Virtually [PhP499]. My friends and I have conspired to put them in prominent spots on the shelves, possibly to the consternation of the clerks. Go.