Home > 21st Century, Beach and Public Transports Books, Epistolary Fiction, German Literature, Glattauer Daniel > Cyber crush: to meet or not to meet, that is the question.

Cyber crush: to meet or not to meet, that is the question.

Gut Gegen Nordwind by Daniel Glattauer. Translated in French by “Contre le vent du Nord” and in English by the silly “Love Virtually”, instead of the literal “Good Against the North Wind”

I decided to read Gut Gegen Nordwind – I can’t make myself use the ludicrous English title – after reading Caroline’s review. It seemed to be the right book to read for the upcoming 7 hours flight I had to take and I wasn’t disappointed, the hours flew pleasantly.  

So, what is it about? Emmi wants to cancel her subscription to the magazine Like. She misspells the email address and accidentally sends it to Leo Leike. They start chatting and writing to each other until the light and funny conversation turns into a crush. Emmi is happily married and Leo is recovering from a multiple stop-and-go relationship with Marlene. The question “Shall we meet?” is raised right from the start. As they live in the same town, the meeting would be easy to set up. It’s nagging at them and itches more and more intensely as the correspondence develops.

I really enjoyed the beginning of their relationship, their witty ping-pong exchanges. The ending is unexpected and well-chosen. I was a little bored by the procrastination about meeting or not.  As it is written in the form of emails, the style is mostly spoken language, with a very good translation from the German. The sequence of short messages gives a vivid rhythm to the book.

Now that I’m writing the review and try to answer the central question of the book, ie “What are Emmi and Leo looking for in this virtual relationship?”, two opposite tendencies fight in me. My soft side would say it’s a lovely book gracefully avoiding the expected Hollywood ending. My cynical side would be tempted by a twisted interpretation. So, I’ll give you the two voices and you’ll make up your mind.

La vie en rose, the soft voice says.

Emmi and Leo weren’t looking for anything but accidents, like falling in love, happen. They start an innocent correspondence and get carried away. Leo is available and he’s probably vulnerable after his break-up with Marlene. Emmi entering into his life without the constraints of a long-term relationship is probably a good way to forget his former lover. Emmi is a distraction that becomes an addiction. On her side, Emmi is sincerely in love with her husband Bernhard and it is as if her love were opening a new branch for Leo, who reveals the little emptiness of her married life. Someway, romance is lacking in her life and she enjoys the feeling of young love.

Words are powerful weapons that can set imaginations on fire. It was in the core of two beautiful short-stories by Thomas Hardy I recently read. Imagination also plays a crucial part in Gut Gegen Nordwind. This is a disembodied love fostered by teasing words. But is it really love or the idea of love? Can you pretend to love someone you’ve never met? Isn’t this a very convenient “relationship”, one you can stop whenever you want? You’re there, online, only when you feel like it. It’s out of time, out of place, a sort of living diary. It’s like having a diary that responds to your thoughts.

Of course, the other question is: Is Emmi cheating on her husband with this relationship? What is cheating? What she does, as her feelings are committed, seems a greater betrayal than a simple one night stand.

La vie en Noir, the cynical voice says.

Are they two seducers who manipulate each other? Emmi and Leo don’t really share their deepest thoughts or their everyday life. They don’t have engaging conversations. But they need each other, the daily messages and the idea that there is someone out there to talk to. I wondered why what could have been an agreeable friendship had to turn into love.

What if Leo had been a Lea? Would Emmi have kept on writing if her addressee had been a woman? I’m not sure. Although we only see her through her mails, Leo’s answers and the indirect speech of her friend Mia, we guess Emmi takes pleasure in being attractive. We understand that she’s pretty and likes testing her power over men. She’s the one who starts teasing and talking about seduction. Emmi is not built to have a man as a friend. She doesn’t believe in friendship between a man and a woman. From the first emails, Emmi introduces the idea of seduction and sex by asking Leo how he imagines her. Is she doing this to spice her marriage? And Leo? Doesn’t he enter the game easily, nourishing the flames by ambiguous sentences, erotic comments and a strange way of meeting without meeting?

I can’t give too many details without spoiling the last part of the book. But the more I think of it, the more I incline towards the twisted side. What can I say, I have difficulties to buy pure romance.

My two opposite responses to Gut Gegen Nordwind are evidence that this book isn’t as simple and as gooey romantic as the English title gives us to understand. There is a sequel, it will be published in France in April but it’s already released in English and has been reviewed by Caroline here.

  1. March 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    You did capture this very well, I guess, there are two sides, really, I had a tendency to interpret it along your cynical lines. At times I found Emmi quite annyoing and often had the feeling Leo was just a toy for her. I’m suprised you say it is mostly spoken language as in German they express themselves in quite a sophisticated way as far as I remember. I think that especially the way I reacted towards Emmi showed me that it is well written. I really perceived her like a real woman.
    It’s true also that their is something addictive in their relationship. All in all I found it more thought-provoking than romantic.

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    • March 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks.
      I found Emmi annoying too sometimes. I’m not a tango person, you know, two steps forward, one step behind. Once I make up my mind, I just follow through. So I’m not always patient with people changing theirs minds all the time.
      What I’m sure about is that friendship was never an option for her.

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    • March 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

      About the spoken language. “Voilà un message qui était plus hyperventilé qu’écrit, je me trompe?” or “Je deviens accro à vous” is more spoken than written to me.
      How is it in German?

      For Anglophone readers, I’d like to precise that Emmi and Leo say “vous” and not “tu” all along the book. Caroline, I suppose it was “Sie” in German?

      Like

      • March 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm

        Yes, it’s “Sie” for a long time but they change after a while. It didn’t sound like this in German.

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  2. March 24, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    You probably guessed I’d land on the cynical side, and the fact that Emmi opens up with the subject of her appearance nails my decision. It’s a different world than it was 10 or even 20 years ago, and I now know people who’ve met over the internet and go from there. Some success stories and some failures. Just like any other relationships I suppose.

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    • March 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      Yes I could guess that.
      In fact, Emmi assumes that “All men want to know what the women they talk to look like. They even want to know it as fast as possible. And then, they decide if they want to go on talking to them or not” p26. With such a statement, she eliminates any possibility of friendship. Too bad for her, she’s missing something there.

      In France there was the Minitel before the internet. People already met over the Minitel. I know a couple from my parents’ generation who got married after meeting like that. I agree with you, it’s just another way to meet someone, with successes and failures.

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      • March 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm

        The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim gets into the confusion of real vs. virtual relationships, but the story is even more sophisticated than that. At one point, Max’s old friend comes to town and looks him up. Max is all flattered but the meeting they attend does not have a personal origin. It’s business. He doesn’t really get the difference.

        At another point, Max moans that he has 40 friends on Facebook but no one to speak to. I know people who literally get excited as the number of facebook friends mounts.

        Have you seen Social Network yet? I think it’s a fascinating film, and I think one of its messages is that the idea of relationships has really altered thanks to the internet.

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        • March 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm

          I’m going to read The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, I just don’t know when…

          I know what you mean about facebook. I’m a little old fashioned about this and the lack of privacy bothers me. And also the idea that the data remain. One of my colleagues got a guidebook for facebook from his son’s school. The school wanted to help parents with controlling what they children do. I’m not there yet but I’m close.
          I have seen Social Network and found it fascinating as well. What sense do you give to “altered” ? Neutral, positive or negative? I’m really intrigued by this new kind of relationships. Caroline and I talked about blogging too when she posted about this book.

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  3. March 25, 2011 at 2:12 am

    I now know people via the internet who share book tastes. I know no one in my so-called real life that I can say that about. I think that’s positive. But I wonder whether internet relationships enhance isolation or pierce through it?

    Social networking made a point (or at least it did to me) that the idea of friendship is now markedly altered by the internet. In the film, which I know is a fictionalised account, the founder of facebook is himself an outsider who creates a faux friendship network based on the lowest common denominator. You remember that there was an alternative idea to create a site for Yale students. This idea had some exclusivity to it. Facebook, for good or bad, does not.

    Someone I know has a facebook account and is caught in this bizarre loop with very active facebookers constantly recruiting ‘friends’–people with whom he has nothing in common. There’s a meaningless collector’s mentality there.

    I’ve known of internet ‘romances’ that have spilt marriages, so these ‘virtual’ relationships have, ultimately been as damaging as flesh-and-blood threats. It’s very curious.

    The book of short stories by Daniel Kehlmann Fame: A Novel in 9 Episodes confronted some of these issues.

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    • March 25, 2011 at 9:01 am

      I think internet relationships pierce through isolation. I only imagine that your reading and film tastes seem weird in America but mine seem weird here too, at least in my real-life environement. I know no one who would be ready to read Sachs’s memoirs with me. And I’m really glad to know I’ll be able to discuss it with you instead of staying alone with it. Actually, the people who know Emmanuelle (me in my flesh-and-blood form) don’t read what Bookaroundthecorner has to say. Either they don’t speak English well enough or they don’t care about books and literature.

      You can’t imagine how much your thoughts on social networking comfort the idea I have of your temper. I share your views and that’s why I’m so reluctant to use social networks. I don’t think my friends’ friends are necessarily my friends and the word “friend” means too much to me to be applied to anyone through a random click. So collecting ‘friends’ seems strange to me.
      I haven’t heard of internet relationships turning into something else than friendship and breaking marriages around me. (I’m the only weird one who has a blog) But I can understand how it happens. You only see the nice side of the person online when you get to see all the sides of your spouse.

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      • March 26, 2011 at 2:34 am

        If you get a chance to read that Daniel Kehlmann book, there’s one story in which a character has this online life & identity while in real life he lives with his mother, smells and has no friends. It is very very funny. Not to load you down with too many books.

        I think the internet is a wonderful tool for opening up the world, and like any tool it’s as good as the use you apply to it.

        Like

        • March 26, 2011 at 8:58 am

          Kehlmann’s book was already on my list after your review.

          “I think the internet is a wonderful tool for opening up the world, and like any tool it’s as good as the use you apply to it.” Exactly. I totally agree with that.

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  4. March 25, 2011 at 6:17 am

    I think there is a good way to find out whether it is good or bad to share bok tastes with people virtually or in “real” life. If you would prefer to share them in your real life… I think it shows a lot about prejudice linked to looks, don’t you? We choose our “online-friends” solely on shared interest. The moment you first see a person you build such a lot of expectations on the looks. And I’m not talking about good or bad looking. I once saw the picture of a blogger who wrote wonderful posts but the person looked so dull. If I had met the person in real life I might have been prejudiced and maybe even discarded a possibility for a relationship (maybe not) thinking she would bore me to death.

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    • March 25, 2011 at 9:26 am

      Caroline, we’ve talked about this earlier, I think we don’t live in the same kind of intellectual environment. I understand why Guy uses “isolation” because I experience it. I’m not saying people around me are stupid, I’m just saying that literature isn’t their cup of tea.

      Yes of course, this is a disembodied relationship and it avoids the prejudices linked to looks. It’s a way to “meet” people you would have missed in real life or people who hide in real life. I used to do that, hide. Someway, blogging put me out of my literary closet, I talk about books more openly, whatever people will think about me. I recently had a wonderful business lunch with a CPA who loves Eastern Europe literature. (I gave him the address of Max’s blog) First time I’ve had business lunch with a man who talked about something else than sport, cars and wine. A year ago, I would have missed that because I wouldn’t have brought literature in the conversation.

      I think that blogging about books is special because you inevitably talk about intimate thoughts and you wouldn’t need to do that on a cooking or sport blog.

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  5. March 27, 2011 at 7:38 am

    I have read three books by Kehlmann (they might not even be translated) and one and a half I did not like at all (one book was a book of short stories and 50% were good). This is just to say I was very reluctant to read “Ruhm” but now I ordered it.
    I have no facebook account and am often taken aback when I hear people talk about their “friends”. Like you Bookaroundthecorner, I really mean it when I call someone “friend” and that takes a long time.
    I am thinking often about the reasons why people choose to be anonymous, without real name or photo on their blog, while others share freely. The interesting thing is, I’m sure, that the reasons are as varied as the people and I would love to explore that. Occasionally I saw blogs on which the blogger chose to use a photo of a lesser known celebrity. That struck me as particularly eerie.
    Did you see that Delerm also wrote a “blogger book”?

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    • March 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

      I think we should invent a new word for social network contacts and internet relationships. When I was a teenager, I had pen pals, now I have book pals.

      I don’t know how people choose their internet identity (real or not). Employers google employees, and for me it’s a good reason to be anonymous. My gravatar is Mafalda, the heroin in Quino’s comic books. I chose her because it corresponds to my sense of humour. But I’m terribly interested in the blogging etiquette and vocabulary, I was thinking about writing a post on this for my blog’s first anniversary.

      Is it Quelque chose en lui de Bartelby? Annoying title, I already have the related song in my head. (Like for Gut Gegen Nordwind, each time I read Marlene I heard Noir Désir’s song.) You already recommended Delerm, I can get it at the library. I haven’t read him beyond La première gorgée de bière et autres plaisirs minuscules.

      Like

  6. March 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I haven’t read this Delerm. I loved Autumn and some of his photo books and I’m keeping Sundborn because it is also about a painter I like and might be equally good. The title “Quelque chose en lui…” isn’t convincing, I agree. I’m anonymous as well and have my reasons but I chose that people can know my first name. Your gravatar told me exactly what you just said. I never thought that it was hinting at the way you look, I thought it should be a reflection of your character and it looked funny and as if you wanted to say that you do not take yourself too seriously… Something like that.

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    • March 27, 2011 at 8:44 pm

      Actually, I love Mafalda. Everytime I read one these comic books, I just rock with laughter.

      Like

  1. February 15, 2015 at 10:53 am

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