Author: Daniel Glattauer (English translation by Katharina Bielenberg, Jamie Bulloch)
Publisher: Deuticke (German), Silver Oak (English)
Read: December 09, 2012
Written entirely in the form of emails between the main protagonists, the novel tells the story of Emmi Rothner and Leo Leike, who are accidentally brought into email contact when Emmi tries to cancel a magazine subscription and types in the wrong email address. Still reeling from the break-up of a relationship, Leo responds with sarcasm to Emmi’s email, which starts an unusual correspondence between the two strangers. But words have their own power, and soon Emmi and Leo find themselves attracted to each other, looking forward to their daily correspondence with a person they have never seen. Planning to finally meet their email partner, the self-proclaimed “happily married” Emmi is worried that she may not find Leo attractive, whilst Leo is certain he would recognise Emmi, of whom he has formed a firm fantasy picture. But meeting each other in the real world proves to be much more difficult than previously thought, as neither wants to jeopardise the relationship which has become to mean so much to them.
I read this novel in German, and loved the author’s language, witticism and play on words throughout Emmi’s and Leo’s dialogue – the insightful, witty and snappy email exchanges made me smile and almost had me longing for my very own secret email partner. I could well imagine why both Emmi and Leo would look forward to their daily correspondence. Despite the obvious pitfalls and warnings lighting up in the back of my mind when reading this novel, I found the story very romantic and sweet – and very different from any other romantic novel I have ever read (and romance is normally a genre I approach with caution, which is why it took me almost a year to pick up this book and read it).
Glattauer’s novel challenges a lot of beliefs about what makes a romantic relationship, and what our true needs are from each other. What does the “happily married” Emmi see in Leo, who is a total stranger she has never laid eyes on, yet who has become her closest confidante, knowing things about her which she would never tell her husband? Would their relationship ever survive a meeting in person? Are our words a truer reflection of ourselves than our whole persona, or can we use them as a mask to hide our true face? Built on the premise that attraction is more than skin-deep, the novel validates the merits of different forms of connection between people. As Emmi and Leo slowly get to know each other, so does the reader, taking me on a journey of discovery I found very intriguing – I now look forward to reading the sequel (with some trepidation … if you have read the book you may understand why). All in all, “Gut Gegen Norwind” was one of the more enjoyable romantic novels I have read in a very long time, and I can fully recommend it to anyone with a sense of humour and in need of a light, enjoyable summer read.