Daniel Glattauer: Love Virtually (2011) aka Gut gegen Nordwind (2006) A German Novel in E-Mails

Love Virtually

“Write to me, Emmi. Writing is like kissing, but without lips. Writing is kissing with the mind.’

It begins by chance: Leo receives emails in error from an unknown woman called Emmi. 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. The erotic tension simmers, and it seems only a matter of time before they will meet in person. But they keep putting off the moment – the prospect both excites and unsettles them. And after all, Emmi is happily married. Will their feelings for each other survive the test of a real-life encounter?

And if so, what then?

Love Virtually is a funny, fast-paced and utterly absorbing novel, with plenty of twists and turns, about a love affair conducted entirely by email.

I have already read Love Virtually because the original came out in Germany in 2006. I even read it in hardback, a rare thing, as I was so curious to find out what the hype was all about. I must say, I have not often been this engrossed. You start it, you read and you do not stop before the end. After, let’s say, two –  three pages you will have forgotten that this is a novel, you will be sure that you are reading a real e-mail exchange between two people. That is quite an achievement. I am really  pleased to see that Glattauer’s book will be published in English in 2011.

Emmi writes accidentally to Leo and they keep on writing to each other because each one likes the tone of the other’s e-mails. And because they both imagine each other. Without knowing each other they develop crushes. There is only one little complication. Emmi is happily married. It seems only natural she does not want to meet Leo. What if he was anything like the man she imagines? Still she can’t stop writing. They tease and flirt and exchange their hidden dreams and wishes and get to know each other better and better. They also arrange a date without really meeting each other. They just both know that they are at the same restaurant at the same time. Later they compare their impressions and try to find out if they  did recognize each other.

Leo and Emmi are both  intellectuals. This is important to know, as that determines the nature of their exchange. Even though they tease and flirt, they philosophize and analyze a great deal too.

If you want to find out if they really meet you have to read the novel. Daniel Glattauer wrote a sequel (Alle sieben Wellen 2009) that has been published a while back. It is also very good but I would have preferred if he had stopped after Gut gegen Nordwind. The ending of Love Virtually is very special. The sequel spoils it.

I think the idea of having a crush on someone you only know by e-mail (I know the movie with Meg Ryan, but Love Virtually is very different) is interesting and Glattauer provides an in-depth analysis of this premiss. Love Virtually is highly entertaining but still deep. Personally I like epistolary novels a great deal. This is just a variation on the same theme.

A word on the English marketing of this book. Just have a look at the German cover. Don’t you think it looks much nicer? I can understand that the title was problematic. Gut gegen Nordwind would have to be translated as “Good against the North wind”. This is far more poetical than Love Virtually but does this mean anything outside of Germany? The North wind is a bit like the Californian Santa Ana winds, but cold, very cold. He does also carry a nervous energy and is a bit depressing. I must admit, I am not sure I would have bought the book with the title Love Virtually and such a cover. What do you think about the covers and the titles?

49 thoughts on “Daniel Glattauer: Love Virtually (2011) aka Gut gegen Nordwind (2006) A German Novel in E-Mails

  1. It does sound like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’ movie, with different details.

    This looks interesting although it’s not my kind of book. Can you believe that I have never read love/romantic story in my entire life. I guess I’m not a romantic person 😉

    • I am not very romantic either but I liked it. It is definitely not a romance novel. The core idea is like the one in the movie but it is very different. It is interesting to fall in love with someone you don’t know just because the perso says the right things. It also shows the addictive part very well. After a while they check their inbox constantly. Many details could be applied to blogging. I read on a blog the other day that many men have a crush on this blogger because they love what she writes and imagine her to be very pretty which she is not as she says.

      • Actually I know someone this happened to. He posted on a site (which shall remain anonymous)–a gaming site, and there was another player whose name had implications–something like Crystal Butterfly. Not that that’s the name used, as I’ve forgotten it, but it was something along those lines. His obsession caused problems between him & his flesh & blood girlfriend.

        Anyway, he attended some conference for the gamers, couldn’t wait to meet this girl. She was the opposite of what he’d imagined. Good thing he hadn’t gone too far down the virtual relationship road. The only thing they had in common was the love of the game….

        • It’s a fascinating thing these virtual crushes… Or just when you picture someone, from the same gender even… I saw a photo once and all of a sudden the posts the person wrote made much more sense… I am sure we all have pictures, just a name will make you imagine. Lucky for your friend she wasn’t as he had imagined her…

  2. I, for one, prefer the German cover. And the title sounds a lot more intriguing. But probably would have suffered in the marketing so I can see why they altered it.

    • I think German-English translations should be ok. I hope they manage. He has a special style, the two people sound very different. I got really swept away by it. At least he got translated. I read so many recently that will never be translated.

      • Dear Caroline (and everybody else). I have just roughly skimmed the English translation, and it seems a very fine one indeed. It might interest you to learn (if you don’t already know) that there were two translators involved – one for each of the two characters (male and female).
        I myself have just finished the Danish version, which will appear i April. The Danish title will be something like “Something in the air” (“Noget i luften”) which referes to a well known Danish folk song about love (in the air). All together a whole new one. I don’t know how the Danish cover will look like yet… Thanks for your time, Simon

        • PS: Just spoke to the publisher – the Danish translation, I am happy to say, is “God mod nordenvind” which is a direct translation of the German. And the cover is nice…

          • Very good news. I don’t think the English title is doing it any justice…. Title and cover are crucial and in Denmark the title should be easily understood. Maybe it doesn’t make sense in the UK or US. I am pleased for daniel Glattauer. He is afine writer. I liked it a lot.

        • Dear Simon, thank you so much for stopping by and the information. It is good to know the translation is well done. The interest in the book is amazing. I have at least 10 views per day only looking for this novel. I am very pleased to hear from a Danish translator since this feels like a coincidence… I just started to learn Swedish and hope that Danish will be understandable too. I prefer reading in the original language but luckily whenever not possible there are good translators available.

  3. This does sound good and it is probably very good it is not being published for a few months yet as I have too many other books to finish first. I think I would not have looked at the book with the English language cover, but I’ve added it to my list now. I love epistolary novels, but so far haven’t been tempted by novels that use emails–this one sounds a little different though. I like the idea of letters through the mail, but I guess I need to get with the times.

  4. I think this is only the UK version–I wonder what American publishers will do with it–if they’ve bought the rights that is…I agree the German is much more appealing.

    • Thanks for visiting and the kind words. I love his books and wanted to spread the word. Hope he will be as succesful in English as he was in German. That is decidedly a new approach you are going to try. Good luck with it. This review is the one that has the most views of all the reviews I have written so far. You should have a winner.

  5. Pingback: Daniel Glattauer: Every Seventh Wave (2011) aka Alle sieben Wellen (2009) The Sequel of Love Virtually « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  6. I wonder why I missed that post in the first place. I’d love to read this, but I guess you know that. The paperback French version will be published in April. The title is “Quand souffle le vent du nord”, which is faithful to the German title. (Fortunately you had given the German title, I would never have found the corresponding French book without it)
    The cover isn’t available but the one of the hardcover is the same as the German one, but reversed. (The woman is looking to the right) I suppose the English title is a reference to the romantic comedy Love Actually.

    I agree with you – and you won’t be surprised by that – that it echoes with blogging, especially about books, because it involves our deepest secret thoughts and feelings. (Even if we don’t want to say too much of ourselves, we do anyway) Not even going as far as crushes, what kind of relationships do we develop here ? I think I’d worry if you “disappeared” all of a sudden (no post or no comment anywhere) Then what’s the etiquette? Would it be improper for me to enquire after you by email ? And I’d feel sorry to hear something bad had happened to you. Aren’t worry or concern some sort of evidence that these exchanges inevitably create a new kind of relationship?

    • It was one of my first posts. You are so good! Of course that’s a reference to Love Actually. I hadn’t thought of it, I was totally lost in translation. I hope you will like it. I really did. Once you read it you will understand why a sequel was at first not so appealing but when you enjoy it as much as I did, you won’t mind in the end.

      Yes it does echo with blogging. I wonder how much we really reveal. Funny you should say this about someone disappearingand and what is the right etiquette. I think I would probably enquire but it would take a lot of hesitating at first.

      • Your answer is, what is the word?, comforting? I was wondering if I was a freak unable to keep a proper distance. You have my permission, enquire as often as you want.

        I think you’d like Pancol’s series with animals in the titles (crocodiles, turtles, squirrels). Incidentally, the main character is an historian who writes historical novels. Ha ha, isn’t that funny? (seems like we’re always in the middle of a conversation)

        • Comforting , yes. I tend to worry easily for other people or then I start to wonder if I said or wrote something wrong… I’m sure I would like her other novels but I feel so bad when I look at the books I haven’t read yet. They really pile up high… Animals are another of my favourite topics. But I guess it is not really about animals? But about history? Yes, it is an ongoing conversation. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Cyber crush: to meet or not to meet, that is the question. « Bookaroundthecorner's Blog

  8. Just a little message to tell you I lent my copy of this book to a colleague. She loved it and she’ll buy the sequel, so I’ll probably read it too.

    Contre le vent du Nord is now in another house.

    • Glad to hear it. Hopefully she and you will like the sequel as well. I’m still not sure if he should have written it. Not that it is not good, it’s very similar but … you know the end of the first one…

  9. I really loved “Gut Gegen Nordwind” in the German, it would be interesting to compare the English translation. I am reading “Alle sieben Wellen” right now. Although my German is far from perfect I was inspired to read it because I loved the extracts I had read.
    (Another German book I read that I would really recommend is “Was zuzammengehoert” by Markus Feldenkirchen, an incredible love story where the author manages to create really authentic Irish characters.)

    • That’s great that you read it in the original. I can’t really say if it is difficult as I’m a native German speaker. Both books are equally good. He really managed to keep the same tone. From all I read I think the English translation must be good. Thanks for the recommendation, I didn’t know Markus Feldenkirchen.

  10. I read this in the French translation, which was titled “Quand souffle le vent du nord”, literally “When the north wind blows”. I think the title should be kept similar in so far as possible. The north wind is part of Western culture, from Aesop’s fables to George MacDonald’s children’s book.

    • The title is crucial for the German book but I took it more literally and didn’t think it would mean so much in the UK or US. All the other translations I have herad of kept the title. Let’s see if the US book will maintain it. I don’t think it is out yet. Anyway, now that you mention it, it’s true there is a tradition of the north wind in books.

  11. I read “Gut gegen Nordwind” last year. It’s an interesting relationship, but quite different to “You’ve Got Mail”. The characters are far more developed in this book, even though it’s relatively short. What’s also good is the variation, the way the two characters write in different moods and styles, like real people.

    Actually I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition, read by two quite successful German actors, who are also married in real life. Leo is read by Christian Berkel, who has a great reading voice (he was in Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” in a small role too).


    • Hi Marcus, good to see the comment worked this time.
      I think it really is interesting and doesn’t have all that much in common with “You’ve got Mail”. It is much more elaborate. Did you read the sequel? I was really astonished when I saw he wrote a sequel amd although it was also good, I think he spoilt the original idea with it.
      I didn’t realize the audio book was read by two different people but I would say it makes sense in this case. It would be almost like a play. I’m curious to hear it, maybe I’ll give it a try. Berkel is a good actor, I have seen many of his movies. And I also like Andrea Sawatzki. Thanks for telling me.

      • Hi Caroline,

        I haven’t read the sequel yet. I’m not used to the idea of sequels in books. The reviews I read were very mixed, some even thought the sequel better. It’s all very subjective. The latter speaks in favour of the author. All responses except indifference are good, IMHO.

        The audiobook is worth checking out. Andrea Sawatzki is equally great as Emmi. They really bring the two to life. You can hear free samples. I got it from audible.de. The electronic edition is cheaper than the CDs, but they allow you to burn a copy to CD as well. So a better deal in my opinion.

        Speaking of audiobooks, have you tried librivox.org the audio version of Project Gutenberg, for free Public Domain audiobooks in many languages. All done by volunteers. The quality varies, but some are almost pro level. The books are of course out of copyright so mainly classics older than 70 years.

        • One of the readers of my blog read both books in their French translation and she hated the sequel. I was somewhat astonished because she said it was very corny. I could imagine this had something to do with the translation. The German is not corny but, as I said already, it spoils the idea of part I. I’m not into sequels unless it’s a fantasy series like The Lord of the Rings or a crime series but not for so-called literary fiction.
          Thanks for the recommendations on audio-books. I didn’t know them.
          I will check it out.

  12. Pingback: Daniel Glattauer “Hea põhjatuule vastu” « noudmiseni

  13. I just read Love Virtually two days back and I was completely floored by it.I saw the review and immediately ordered it online since I liked the premise and I’m a fan of epistolary novels. But what I didn’t expect was the discussions. They were so varied, from mundane everyday things to philosophical discussions to analyzing their emotions. And the fully developed “real” characters were a joy . Lovely review and I read all the comments. Interesting discussion.
    Internet relationships and acquaintances they become an important of our everyday life and we never know when the transition from virtual to real world has occurred. I have the UK version,the cover is okay (not good not bad) but the title is definitely not as lyrical as the direct translation of the German title in English would have been.

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting, sujata. I was floored as well when I read it, I liked it a lot. They have changed the cover meanwhile. I’m still not happy with it, I think the German cover is much better and so is the title.
      Virtual relationships get more and more important, it’s true. I’ve seen a few books with this premise but this one is special because of the quality of the discussions the charcaters have.
      Although I thought this book and the ending was perfect I still liked reading the sequel.
      Thanks for the nice word about my review.

      • Thanks for replying so soon 🙂 I was searching like crazy for the sequel and then read about the mixed reactions people had about it so was mulling over whether to buy or not. But now I think I will, thanks to you.
        The book made a lot of sense and answered some of the questions I dared not ask anybody and it dealt swiftly with some of things that crop up in a virtual relationship. In the end it made me feel that I’m not alone and I’m definitely not as stupid as I had thought myself to be for crushing over somebody online and thinking that I had fallen in love with a virtual stranger over emails. And I’m seeing all the online friendships ,old and new in a different light now. A great find this book was.

        You are welcome 🙂 This is a great blog you have here,Caroline.

        • Thanks, Sujata. 🙂
          I saw that there were some negative reactions about the second book but mostly because people thought it spoilt the ending of the first but purely from the content of the discussions, I still liked it.
          It’s absolutely not stupid to fall in love with an online acquaintance. It could be a disappointment once you met that perosn in real life. I suppose for some people the anonymity will mean that they are more honest, more themselves, especially shy people, while others would use it to appear as someone they are not. That’s the tricky thing in online relationships.
          I hope you will enjoy the sequel.

          • Thanks for your inputs Caroline 🙂 You are very right.
            Words have a way of charming you ,without the awkward pauses in real life conversation they appear as something else entirely. Like living a story I suppose.
            Then there is the thing about skeletons in the closet . You are only seeing what is being projected so who knows how much truth there is in it. Where I got the book completely is this,living in the other sort of dream world in spite of everything ,one does lose touch with reality and when both the worlds collide and you have to pick one. That’s heartbreaking because one world will be razed to the ground by logic and rationality and one has to pick up the pieces and continue living with an altered reality and one feels that life as one knew it (or rather viewed it)has changed. Does it make sense to you?

            One can go on and on so before I bore you to death any further I stop my rambling here.


  14. Pingback: Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer | Iris on Books

  15. Pingback: Every Seventh Wave by Daniel Glattauer | Iris on Books

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