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LOVE VIRTUALLY

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Love Virtually By Daniel Glattauer Maclehouse Press 280 pages, Rs399

Very often, life is a twisted tale of serendipity. Sometimes it is all about a mistake, a tiny error made because fingers did not obey what the brain told them to do. Such was the story that began with an email sent to cancel a subscription. A person called E Rothner sends mail to Like magazine asking that it be stopped. The first is polite, asking if the cancellation can be done over email. The third explains a little, saying that the 'rag. . . is gradually going down the drain. . . ' Unfortunately for E Rothner, the mails have been sent to the wrong address, woerter@leike. com instead of woerter@like. com and, a little to and fro of 'round robin' mails later, Leo Leike responds to Emmi Rothner in person. The typo leads to a strange and occasionally funny love story with a slight difference: the two people involved in the romance never meet, limited by Emmi's 'married' status and some degree of instinctual reactivity that kept them - perhaps serendipitously - apart.

In some ways, Love Virtually is something that has happened to all of us. Anyone who has ever been part of an email correspondence knows that it is easy to be friendly on a keyboard, especially when there is little chance of actually meeting the other person. Small intimacies develop rapidly, with endearments sliding into the writing as easily as it is to press the 'send' button. Personalities are revealed - in this odd, goingnowhere tale, this version a translation from the original German Gut Gegen Nordwind, Leo is a language psychologist at a university working on the influence of email on linguistic behaviour, while Emmi is a married (and happily so, she tells him) woman with two stepchildren that her husband brought with him into the relationship and saved her the trouble of pregnancies, she says.

Even as mails get longer and more detailed, while at the same time getting shorter, choppier and in that more personal, Emmi learns a great deal about Leo while protecting herself, giving away nothing in actual words, but a great deal in the tone. An inevitable possessiveness creeps in to the 'relationship', such as it is, developing from teasing lightheartedness to a more intense sense of belonging, a feeling of 'mine', a resentment for anyone else - especially another woman in Leo's life - who is becoming important.

Along the way, as the two emailers begin to know each other, there is, as would be expected, a need to meet, a desire to see what the other person is all about in reality, even as they both maintain their privacy and keep some vital information to themselves. In that very self-protective bubble, they meet, but don't actually meet, dropping by the same pub for a drink at a specified time. And they play a little guessing game, a flurry of emails, short and long, strident and non-committal, slowly revealing more about themselves and their growing bond. There is a gentle eroticism in everyday information - do you wear pyjamas to sleep in? I bought a new pair today only for you. A kiss is planned, one where the blinds are closed, but hands are not free and clothes - oh, what shall I wear? The language of lovers anticipating a rendezvous, with all the trepidation and anxiety people meeting for the first time feel, flavours the short messages, sent back and forth in moments. Just when reality starts to trickle into this fantasy electronic world, the door crashes shut and an email Emmi sends to Leo telling him that she loves him is rejected. The end? No.

Every Seventh Wave, a sequel, is due this summer, hopefully taking this utterly frustrating, totally idiotic, voyeuristically unsatisfying story forward. But then, we have all at some stage been there, done that, occasionally even taken off the T-shirt.

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