It began when I was a girl, with books like Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs and Norma Fox Mazer’s I, Trissy.

These stories invited me directly into characters’ private thoughts, via letters written to a trusted recipient and journal entries written for the writer’s own eyes.

Love Virtually Glattauer

Trans. Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch, German 2011 (originally published 2006)

When I was in university, I thrilled to the letters in de Laclos’ Les Liasons Dangereuses.

(Not because I was seduced by French letters in translation, but because I had loved the 1988 film with John Malkovich, Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer.)

And, a few years later, I was tickled by the e-mails in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

If I had discovered a book like Daniel Glattauer’s Love Virtually then, I would have gobbled it whole.

Not only as a book of letters, which is intimate enough, but a book of love letters: as intimate as it gets.

And, yet, Love Virtually is not immediately inviting.

That suits the story, as its main characters are not immediately drawn to one another.

In fact, their meeting is accidental, for Leo has received an email that Emmi sent in order to cancel a magazine subscription.

The first emails they exchange are short and uncomplicated but, almost immediately (about 10 pages into the novel), it’s clear that this correspondence has taken on an unexpected importance for Leo and Emmi.

Subject: Something’s missing
Dear Leo,
If you don’t write to me for three days 1) I begin to wonder why, 2) I feel like something’s missing. Neither is pleasant.
Please rectify!

And some weeks later, some 20 pages later, the letters are that much more complicated.

Subject: Test
Dear Emmi,
I’m finding it had to resist your hot-and-cold emails. Who’s actually paying us for the time we’re whiling away here together (or not together)? And how can you fit it in with your career and your family?
Have a nice afternoon,

Some of the content and trajectory of the story is predictable; even from these brief excerpts, one might surmise that readers will brush against questions of fidelity, devotion, romance and marriage as they continue to read through Leo and Emmi’s correspondence.

Nonetheless, Daniel Glattauer’s novel manages to take a flat medium and make the story compelling, even pull marginal characters (like Emmi’s husband, for instance) off the novel’s page.

(These characters should be even flatter than paper, for unlike the love letters in Chordelos de Laclos’ Les Liasons Dangereuses there is no ink, no parchment, no shape at all to these characters which exist only in the ether.)

Postal Reading Challenge

Image links to challenge site

Were I not fond of the epistolary form to begin with, I might have struggled to find the charm in this novel, but given that I love reading other people’s mail, I was quite content to read along (and more than a little curious about what will happen next in Leo’s and Emmi’s virtual world).

This is my first read for Melwyk’s Postal Reading Challenge.

I’m planning to alternate one book of fictional epistles with one book of “real” letters, and I’ve got four non-fiction choices tempting me right now for the next installment in the challenge.

Have you been reading (or writing?!) any letters recently?