I’d usually pass by a novel in the form of emails, but there was something about this one. It’s in translation. It’s published by a nice, niche publisher. It’s been dramatised on Radio 4. I decided that I should give it the benefit of the doubt, and I’m very glad I did.
It begins quite simply, and believably, with a misdirected email sparking a conversation between two strangers. By the time they’ve sorted out the problem, Emmi and Leo have grown to like chatting on the computer, and so their correspondence goes on.
“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’ve got is a computer screen – for our eyes only – and we share a hobby: we’re both interested in a complete stranger. Brilliant!”
They have grown up lives, one of them has a family, but this relationship offers something different. A chance to be honest; a chance to voice thoughts usually unspoken; not the big dramatic things, the little things, the things that make us who we really are.
“Isn’t it exciting that you can get involved with someone you don’t know, someone you’ve never set eyes on and probably never will, someone you expect nothing from, of whom you can’t be sure that you’ll ever get anything halfway adequate in return?”
It was fascinating to watch, and it was easy to turn the pages quickly. It was easy to believe in Emmi and Leo, easy to enjoy the wit and intelligence of their exchanges.
My perceptions changed and my sympathies shifted back and forth as I continued to read.
Their relationship grew, became more important to both of them. They considered meeting, and they wondered where that could lead.
“The only thing we do, the only thing that makes us forget everything else is to intrude into each other’s private life; I enter yours and you enter mine …”
It would be unfair to say more.
To some degree the direction of the story is predictable, but there were some interesting and clever little twists, and some very clever plotting, meant there was always some suspense to pull me forward. And near the end there was a shift that was predictable and unexpected at the same time.
But none of this would have worked without the right characters, and Emmi and Leo were just right. Real, complex, fallible human beings, who shared happiness, sadness, humour … and a certain frisson.
The story told in their correspondence made a lovely little book, and it’s size and the short exchanges meant that it worked beautifully as a handbag book to be read in work breaks.
I’d call it entertaining and intelligent contemporary romance.
Love Virtually leaves me intrigued to know what happens next, and fortunately a sequel, ‘The Seventh Wave,’ is imminent.
Emmi was translated by Katharina Bielenberg and Leo was translated by Jamie Bulloch. A married couple …