The Solitude of Prime Numbers: A Novel

The Solitude of Prime Numbers: A Novel

by Paolo Giordano


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143118596
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/29/2011
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 353,049
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Paolo Giordano was born in Turin in 1982. He is working on a doctorate in particle physics. The Solitude of Prime Numbers is his first novel.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A mesmerizing portrait of a young man and woman whose injured natures draw them together over the years and inevitably pull them apart. Mr. Giordano remarkably and movingly portrays the hesitant groping toward warmth that works beneath the pair's emotional disabilities. The author works with piercing subtlety. An exquisite rendering of what one might call feelings at the subatomic level."
-Richard Eder for The New York Times

"The melancholy that hangs over The Solitude of Prime Numbers is seductive and unnerving. A-."
-Entertainment Weekly

"Giordano's passionate evocation of being young and in despair will resonate strongly with readers."
-USA Today

"The elegant and fiercely intelligent debut novel by 27-year-old physicist Paolo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers revolves around Mattia and Alice, friends since high school-'twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough to really touch each other,' wherein resides the seductive enchantment of this singular love story."

"This compelling debut shows a remarkable sensitivity and maturity in the depiction of its damaged soulmates. A fragile, unconventional love story by a talent to watch."

"A deeply touching debut. Beautiful and reads easily, due in party to the almost seamless translation. An intimate psychological portrait of two 'prime numbers'-together alone and alone together."

"Surprising, intimate and deeply moving, The Solitude of Prime Numbers takes the readers on a hypnotic journey through an unexpected love affair. Paolo Giordano writes with grace and elegance of gentle but damaged characters, using inventive language to create a story unlike anything in recent fiction. This is everything a debut novel should be and leaves one longing for the books that will follow."
-John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

"Paul Giordano is an expert on loss and sorrow. He understands and reveals the hidden hollows of the heart. His story is a quiet one, but his strong writing and unforgettable characters make his book a page turner. The Solitude of Prime Numbers is sad, dark and perfect."
-Mary Pipher, author of Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World

"What a shock to open a novel written by a young physicist in Italy and find myself there, on every page. No wonder Giordano's readers can be counted in the millions; this astute, aching contemplation of solitude has a power to make us all feel a little less alone. A love story told with astonishing perceptiveness and remarkable subtlety, The Solitude of Prime Numbers is an extraordinary affirmation of the reasons we read."
-Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Story of Forgetting

Reading Group Guide


Divisible only by one and themselves, prime numbers stand in stark contrast to natural numbers, upending the orderly logic of mathematics. They are strange, solitary, and disruptive. Like prime numbers, Mattia and Alice are also oddities, united in their loneliness, adrift in the normal world. Unable to fi t in with anyone else, Alice and Mattia are kindred spirits, each bearing the burden of physical and psychological injuries from their childhood. Alice walks with a limp, the result of a skiing accident, and, painfully self-conscious of her body, nurses an eating disorder. Mattia’s scars run deeper; devastated by the loss of his mentally handicapped twin sister and racked with guilt over his secret role in her disappearance, Mattia turns his emotional suffering into physical pain, deliberately cutting and burning himself. The relationship between these two damaged young people is the center of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano’s brilliantly arresting debut novel.

Giordano’s characters are provocative, even disturbing at times, and yet they have a fragility that evokes our sympathy. As Alice struggles to navigate the cruel and arbitrary rules of high school, she reaches out and retreats inward in equal measure, and when she is rebuked by her classmates, she turns to Mattia as her only friend. But while Alice is rejected by the world, Mattia, in turn, rejects the world itself, severing himself from any visible emotional contact with anyone else. He escapes into numbers, replacing the chaos of life with the peaceful structures of mathematics—and yet, even there, he finds Alice. Together they pass through adolescence into adulthood, and their private world expands to include a constellation of characters who love, desire, despise, and ignore them. Clinging together and yet never able to connect fully, Mattia and Alice are forced to question whether it’s possible to unlock themselves from their painful pasts and overcome their deep loneliness by reaching out to each other. With artful precision, Giordano illustrates the bitter beauty of love and loss and how the two extremes are permanently intertwined. His novel is a brutally honest yet generous portrayal of two struggling souls. Mattia and Alice are neither good nor bad people, they are simply human, but they pay a deep price for the choices they make. Complex and compelling, The Solitude of Prime Numbers is an unsettling look at how the effects of a single moment can reverberate through a lifetime.



Paolo Giordano is an Italian writer who won Italy’s premier literary award, the Premio Strega, for The Solitude of Prime Numbers, his debut novel. He is a professional physicist and is currently working on a doctorate in particle physics.


The Solitude of Prime Numbers has been translated into a number of languages. How involved were you in the process of translation? How does the spirit of your work shift from language to language?

Of course there are only a few languages for which my contribution could be significant—English, French, Spanish. I read as much as I could of the translation, only to check whether the taste of the prose, its musicality and rhythm were kept. For other languages, like Dutch or German or Chinese, I can't even read what is written. In the cases I could "taste," the translations were very good, though translation always slightly changed the overall feeling of the book—for instance, making it sound more literal or easier. I had to make very few changes. By the way, I usually trust translators a lot, as I often read foreign authors translated into Italian (even English-speaking ones, as I am quite lazy) and—at least in Italy—translations are excellent most of the time.

Your novel won the Strega Prize in Italy, an achievement for any author but especially for a first-time novelist. As the youngest author to win the award, how does it feel to be included with so many Italian literary giants? Are there any fellow winners whose work is meaningful to you, whether as a writer or as a reader?

At first, I felt very scared by winning the Strega Prize. I said to myself: Well, what am I to do now? I achieved the highest possible result that my mind could fancy with my first novel, so I was sure that everything in the future might only be less than that. That's why I chose to forget the prize somehow. It was a kind of removal mechanism, similar to what happens with traumas. Every time I think of the prize now, it looks like something that happened many years ago, maybe to another person. On the other hand, the prize gave me some self-confidence that I totally lacked and also, I hope, some credit with a lot of readers, which I will rely on in the future. Such big names have won the Strega Prize and many of those are important influences for me, some even from the time of high school. To name the most meaningful to me: Cesare Pavese, Alberto Moravia, Dino Buzzati, Primo Levi, Giuseppe Pontiggia, and Niccoló Ammaniti. I can relate an important part of my life as a reader to each of them.

Do you see the abuse that Mattia and Alice inflict on their bodies as an attempt to assert some measure of control over their lives or are their actions more a means of self-punishment?

I always try not to psychoanalyze my characters too much. The things they do and the way they behave never follow a strict psychological analysis, as this would tear out of them some humanity and some truth, which are the two things I care about the most. Nonetheless, especially for Mattia, it is obvious to see his scars as a way of punishing himself. But it's not only that. Both for him and for Alice, mortifying the body is a way to change the focus of the attention, from some pain that affects the mind to some pain that affects the flesh. It is a way for stopping painful, circular thoughts and to gain some control over things. After all, our body is one of the few things we can really name ours.

What were your considerations in choosing anorexia and self-mutilation as the characters' methods of abuse? How do gender and class play into your choices?

I have to admit I didn't really choose anorexia and self-mutilation. If I was aware at that time that I was entering those kinds of "social diseases" I would have escaped from them immediately. They slowly emerged from the story, in particular from some small gestures that Alice and Mattia did (she hid food in the napkin, he put his hands in the soil and found a cutting piece of glass). I hadn't thought of these gestures until they happened. Then, for the rest of the story, I tried to dodge them a little bit. That's why, for instance, the word "anorexia" is never used. On the other hand, gender and class definitely play a role. Let's consider anorexia, for example. In the 1990s, the time in which the adolescence of Alice takes place, anorexia was more specific of the upper class, the one she belongs to, and almost exclusively affected females. The situation's already changed. Now we know that anorexia is becoming a transversal problem, both for class and for gender (the number of males who suffer from anorexia is increasing very fast, as I read in a recent newspaper article).

Some readers might claim to find your depiction of adolescence shocking while others might find it painfully familiar. In what ways do Alice and Mattia represent contemporary youth? Is there any of your own experience in either character?

I think that any honest description of adolescence has somehow to deal with fear. I think, for instance, of some of my favorite movies about teenagers: Elephant and Paranoid Park by Gus Van Sant, Donnie Darko by Richard Kelly, and the recent Let the Right One In by Thomas Alfredson. Adolescence is shocking. It's full of terror and ghosts and intoxicating joy. It's always been like this, I guess. And in that respect, my novel doesn't talk of a specific youth—not mine or the contemporary. Only the elements, the context, and the scenography suggest the atmosphere of the mid-1990s, the time of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, my high school years.

Pairs—or, more specifically, twins—appear a number of times within the novel: Mattia and Michela; Mattia and Alice; twin primes. What are twin primes and how does this apply to the two friends? What is the significance of the use of pairs in the novel?

Twin primes are couples of prime numbers, such as 11 and 13 or 17 and 19; namely, two primes separated by a single even number. Primes are those numbers that are not divisible by any other number other than 1 and themselves. Mattia and Alice are exactly like that: they seem not to combine with any other person, isolation seems a fundamental aspect of their lives. That is due to painful events that took place during their childhoods, but it is also due to their own specific personalities. Mattia is a sort of genius, introverted and incomprehensible; Alice is arrogant but deeply insecure. As they meet, they recognize something similar one in the other. For the rest of the story, they desperately try to get closer and closer, but they never really succeed. There is always something in the way—that single even number between them. They are not the only pair in the book: Mattia has a twin, Michela, and he loses her when they are children. Alice constantly searches for someone to share her life with, but she ends up with the wrong choice. The search for our twin is, after all, the search of our lives, at least for many of us.

Mattia and Alice find comfort, to whatever degree they can, by connecting with each other while being disconnected from the world around them. What kind of relief does this connection provide? What would have become of them without each other?

I think there are a few special relationships in life that are so strong and intense that they reject the rest of the world. In a way, they are based on the idea of rejecting the world. At least that's what happened to me a few times. They can be friendships or love affairs, but in both cases, what is shared is so special that we think nobody outside can understand it. The friendship between Alice and Mattia is at the same time magical, weird, and strong. It is a source of relief because it protects them from the outside world that seems to hate them, but it is also the source of a new burning pain: the difficulty—almost the impossibility—to really become a part of someone else. What I've noticed during my life is that such special relationships last for only the time the pain underneath them exists. As soon as things change or this pain fades out, they also vanish, incapable of finding a new definition within a more "normal" context.

Sex serves many purposes in the novel—as initiation, as empty experience, as measure of isolation—yet rarely as pleasure. Why do Alice and Mattia resist a physical expression of their emotions?

Sex is one of the situations where all things submerged in our subconscious come out, all fears, all desires, all the violence, and all the needs. That's why sex, in my opinion, is never as easy as television shows or jokes present it to be. We are often told that taking pleasure, especially from sex, and surrendering to it are things that happen naturally, gestures that come for free. I find it harder, instead, to learn how to surrender than to learn how to resist. That's exactly what my characters suffer from: the difficulty of covering the distance between desires and their fulfillments, the difficulty of doing "easy" things, such as kissing a girl or lying in bed with her, difficulties that are not only due to external causes, but also often to internal ones.

Why did you decide to structure the novel in stages rather than as a continuous whole? What do the gaps between the years tell us?

I find that time gaps give a story a deeper breadth. Years and situations that are not told by the author give the reader a space where he/she can be free to make the story his/her own story. In my novel I also skipped some parts that could be seen as important, but I'm sure there are always sufficient elements for anyone to fill in the gaps with his own memories and emotions. And also a love story—this is a love story—always needs to travel across the years, even across an entire lifetime.

What was the impulse behind the main metaphor of the novel? Have you always been fascinated by numbers?

The metaphor came by chance. I've always been fascinated by prime numbers because they are a very easy thing to define—they require only arithmetic. Also, an eight-year-old boy knows what they are, but still the mystery associated with them is unsolved, though all mathematicians have somehow dealt with it since the time of Archimedes. Nobody can predict what will be the next prime number discovered. So it was natural to me that Mattia, who becomes a mathematician, was intrigued by prime numbers. That's why I started building the metaphor. Then I learned about the existence of twin primes: it was exactly what I needed.

Your readers might not realize that you are a physicist as well as an author. Could you tell us a little more about that side of your life?

After high school I found myself in a profound dilemma: I was mainly fascinated by literary studies (philosophy above all), but I was aware that a scientific background would help me understand the nowaday-world better. Then I chose the scientific subject that to me looked more similar to philosophy and I joined the university of physics. I still think it was the right choice. During the years of university, I was totally embedded in physics and the further I went in learning the bigger my fascination became, especially for the microscopic world of elementary particles and of quantum physics. After graduation I started a Ph.D. program in particle physics, which I'm finishing now.

How do you meld your scientific and artistic work? What prompted you to write a novel?

I wrote the novel during one of the busiest times of my life, as I was writing my thesis and then preparing for the admission exam to the Ph.D. program. But it's always been my peculiarity to work better when I'm under pressure. I did physics during the day, often until 7 or 8 p.m. Then after dinner until late in the night I wrote the novel (only a couple of days a week, otherwise that would have been suicide). The reason I started writing was that, after five years of enthusiastic studies, I started to feel a bit bored with physics. I needed something different. When I was younger I wanted to be a rock star, but I found out I didn't have the talent for that. I knew that writing was the only possibility left for doing something different, but I had to wait for that particular time to find the courage to start. Now that the book has had this huge success, things have turned the opposite way around: I write for most of the day and, when I have time, I go on with my research activity.


  • What pleasure or power do Mattia and Alice get from harming their bodies? Think about the moments in the novel when these acts occur. Do you think they are in response to something and, if so, what?
  • There is a brief moment at Viola’s party where Alice and Mattia walk together and their respective scars seem to melt into one another and disappear. How? In what other ways are Mattia and Alice complementary?
  • Examine the relationship between Alice and Viola. Based on Alice’s feelings toward Viola and Viola’s treatment of Alice, what do you think about Alice’s actions when they meet later in life?
  • What is it about adolescence that makes people so cruel? What was your own adolescence like? Did Mattia’s and Alice’s experience with their peers echo your own in any way?
  • Where are the parents in this novel? What presence or power do they assert? Why?
  • Was Mattia’s action with his sister understandable? Was he aware of the possible consequences or not? Should children be held accountable when their actions have such severe consequences?
  • One of Alice’s few pleasures in life is photography, an art that consists of capturing a moment and presenting it according to one’s own perspective. Why is this pursuit appropriate for Alice?
  • Mattia believes that “feeling special is the worst kind of cage that a person can build.” What do you think he means by this?
  • Do you think Alice really sees Michela in the hospital or was she hallucinating? Why?
  • Examine the last paragraph of the novel. What is being said here? What happens to Alice? What happens to Mattia?

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The Solitude of Prime Numbers 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 79 reviews.
PAprincess More than 1 year ago
A pair of social outcasts (one an anorexic, the other a cutter) befriend each other in school, and the friendship continues through the rest of their broken lives. Loneliness permeates the book and leaves the reader with a sense of defeat akin to the characters'. A quick read and an interesting first novel, more of a character study than a story with a plot.
LorraineB More than 1 year ago
So, how does a 27-year old man working on a doctorate in particle physics write an achingly lovely book about loneliness, family, and alienation? By being a close observer of the human condition, and by writing prose that pulls you further into the book. (I've lost sleep over this book--the "only one more chapter" turned into several on more than one night.) Shaun Whiteside, Giordano's translator, deserves credit for the kind of translation that did not make me feel I was missing anything by not reading it in the original Italian. In some ways, I wish this was not a first novel, and I wish Giordano was older. Why? Because as his characters get older, and surpass Giordano's current age, something feels lost. The tremendous empathy with which he writes about his characters' adolescence made me, his reader, nod with recognition. But as his characters move further into their adulthood, part of the suspension of disbelief was broken for me--not all writers are able to write about a time of life that they have not experienced, and toward the end of the book, I felt the distance between Giordano and his characters widening. Okay. That's the major criticism. Let me tell you about the things that Giordano does well. This is character-driven literary fiction, which means that the plot is secondary to the development of the people of whom he writes. (Those of you looking for a "rippin' good yarn" would be best to skip this book.) Instead, it's the moments of subtle beauty--an emotion described in visceral terms, a scene painted in water-color language--that would catch the breath in my chest. Mattia is a twin brother to Michele, a little girl with mental disabilities. Mattia, shy and hyper-intelligent, is lonely. It's not that he's exactly "shunned" by his classmates, as much as he is avoided because he and Michele are seen as a package deal, (meaning that if you invite one to an event, you must invite the other. Thus, at the opening of the novel, Mattia has been in school for several years and has never been invited to a friend's birthday party. One day, one of his classmates finally breaks the taboo, and both children are invited to the party. But Mattia is torn. He knows that if Michele comes to the party, she will ruin Mattia's chances for ever being invited to another party, and so, Mattia makes a decision that forever changes his family's life. Left to live with the guilt of Michele's exit from the world, and, as if to make amends, Mattia finds ways to torment himself physically almost every day. Alice is the daughter of a pushy father who wants his girl to be a champion skiier. Unable to say no to her father, in an attempt to get out of competing one day, she wanders off the trail, shatters her leg, and the surgical attempts to rebuild her broken body leave her covered with scars. Having lost control of a hip and leg that don't perform correctly, Alice attempts to discipline her body through other means. Alice and Mattia, of course, become friends--or as close to friendship as each is capable of. For Alice and Mattia, the high school years were an open wound that had seemed so deep that it could never heal. They had passed through them without breathing, he rejecting the world and she feeling rejected by it, and eventually they had noticed that it didn't make all that much diffference. They had formed a defective and asymmetrical friendship, made up of long absences and much si
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
This wonderful book follows the lives of two uniquely different characters, Mattia and Alice, she’s anorexic, he’s a cutter. Tragic accidents, resulting from foolish decisions, Mattia’s own when he leaves his twin alone in a park and Alice’s own when she decides to ski down a mountain alone, in the fog, after being forced by her domineering father to participate in the sport, shape their lives. Both characters continued to help create their own unhappiness and isolation, as they matured, further paving the dysfunctional path of their futures. Neither one fit comfortably into the world, in the space they occupied, and their own impetuous decisions, as they grew older, were just as foolish as those that originally caused their lives to veer into the unusual, rather than the ordinary. Alice and Mattia are indeed prime numbers, divisible only by one, because they can’t abide close relationships with others. As they matured, they both continued to help shape their own unhappiness and life of solitude, a life they seemed, eventually, to grow to prefer. Their own idiosyncratic behavior discouraged healthy interactions as much as the way others treated them created that unhealthy behavior, that very behavior which turned them away from personal contact. The book explored the consequences of decisions and the interaction of the characters with others, as they developed. They were needy and they met needy people. They were lonely and lonely people gravitated toward them. Dysfunction followed them, and often it was the key to their survival, as others, in spite of their shortcomings and their oddness, were drawn to them, precisely because of their deficiencies. The book is uncomfortable to read because it is a sad commentary on the lives of the characters that never seemed to move on and grow. The book examines characters that are so called, “normal” characters who preyed on those that were not, who bullied them mercilessly, and yet, those characters managed to have more successful lives than those they bullied, and left to wither. All of the characters seemed flawed in some way, all seemed to have trouble communicating with each other, but the two main characters were uniquely flawed. It was another audio book for me and I am becoming quite fond of this format. If the reader is good, the experience is exhilarating because I think it helps you become a part of the narrative with the narrator, feeling the excitement, fear, tension of the voice and suffering the whole range of emotions of the characters, as they do. Although I found it to be a sad little book, I also found it to be quite credible and recognized some of the characters in other people I have known through my lifetime. Reactions were plausible. I never had to suspend disbelief. It examined the ordinary and extraordinary reactions our experiences and environment sometimes unwittingly, precipitate.
ddd611 More than 1 year ago
After reading so many positive reviews I had high hopes for this book, and for me I found it sadly lacking. We follow the two main characters but I feel sometimes they exclude even us the audience from what they are going through.
MarkMeg on LibraryThing 28 days ago
People who can only function alone. Alice and Mattia--very dysfunctional. He a math genius. She crippled and suffering from anorexia. Can't live with other people--each other or she with Fabio(her doctor husband who is slow in discovering she is an anorexic) and he with anyone.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Wow.You know, I haven't run across much contemporary literature that renders me completely speechless after I put it down. This book is... wow.Let me start with Alice. My heart broke reading just the beginning of her story. With sharp, clear writing Paolo Giordano gave description of places, of feelings, of fears and then he ripped my heart out with an event that tore Alice's life apart. It's important to remember that not all disorders begin with the "typical" traumatic experiences and Giordano gut-punched me with that reminder at the beginning of Alice's story.And then there's Mattia. Sweet, smart Mattia. How could such a smart boy possibly go wrong? It's impossible not to empathize with him and understand his actions, his abuse toward himself. Over and over I felt my heart being wrung from the concern I felt, the desire to reach in to the pages of this book and just haul this character out of it and give him a hug.The secondary characters in this book were powerful as well. Every character held so much intricate detail. My mind is spinning right now and all I can think is.. people need to read this book.This book doesn't need me singing its praises. It stands firmly on its own two feet and is one of the most powerful, masterful debut books I've read.
joannemepham29 on LibraryThing 28 days ago
This was a beautifully written story about lovely people, and I loved the math references and analogies. Just utterly great prose, and characterization. I loved it from the first sentence until the last.
mugsy09 on LibraryThing 28 days ago
A book about unresolved issues. I was riveted to the book the whole way through. My heart broke for Alice, but I really didn't "like" her. Mattia drew me in far more. A great read. I was surprised that this was a first novel, by such a young author with such a scientific background.
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Mattia and Alice become friends in high school. They are both shunned to some degree by their peers, he because he is withdrawn and strange, she because of a physical injury. they were both scarred by experiences early in their childhoods. The book explores their continuing relationship through university and young adulthood, as well as their lives apart. It is wonderfully written (and, I assume, wonderfully translated). We care about these characters and want more for them than they are able to achieve.A problem that I had with the story is that Mattia is so difficult to get to know, that I wondered why Alice continued to put in the effort.Here are some quotes that I liked especially:For Alice and Mattia, the high school years were an open wound that had seemed so deep that it could never heal. They had passed through them without breathing, he rejecting the world and she feeling rejected by it, and eventually they had noticed that it didn't make all that much difference. [Prime numbers] are suspicious, solitary numbers, which is why Mattia thought they were wonderful. Sometimes he thought that they had ended up in that sequence by mistake, that they'd been trapped, like pearls strung on a necklace. Other times he thought that they too would have preferred to be like all the others, just ordinary numbers, but for some reason they couldn't do it. This second thought struck him mostly at night, in the chaotic interweaving of images that comes before sleep, when the mind is too weak to tell itself lies.People took what they wanted. They clutched at coincidences, the few there were, and made a life from them. Choices are made in brief seconds and paid for in the time that remains.
tangborn on LibraryThing 28 days ago
I bought this book because I was intrigued by the title. I thought it might be about the struggles in life that are faced by a mathematical genius who is misunderstood by his peers. But it's really not about this at all. It's really about a boy and girl growing up separately who are isolated from society for reasons that are not made entirely clear. Both of them suffer from childhood traumas that cause some disfigurement, but this does not seem to be the real cause. So it's not entirely clear why they are so unhappy and so incapable of connecting with other human beings. I didn't find the motivation behind their stores to be entirely compelling or understandable.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing 28 days ago
While all fiction emanates from the imagination it is rare that a work successfully mimics the language of dreams. The Solitude of Prime Numbers comes as close to doing so as any novel I have read in recent memory. The incidents of the characters' lives are blended together by the young author, Paolo Giordano, in a way that suggests their lives exist, fictionally, on the edge of reality. The main characters, Alice and Mattia, are in a state of continual wonder both of the world that surrounds them and the nature of their own being. Their lives and their search is made tragic by their solitude. The wonder of the novel is in the beautiful, even loving way that this is demonstrated.As I read I kept trying to think of the right word to describe the events of the story. Were they quirky or odd or just strange? None of these words seemed to capture the feeling created by the author's prose which seemed almost poetic in the ethereal way the quotidian accidents of life were presented. It was only when I remembered the irrationality of my own dreams that I found the appropriate description for the story. The characters' lives are lived on a road strewn with obstacles that seem to be fundamental to their inner being. The substance of their solitude forever separates them from the quality of life that they deserve and most of us enjoy. That a story of two such lives would be compelling is a tribute to the author and his novel.
fig2 on LibraryThing 28 days ago
A meditation on isolation, loneliness and alienation, this novel is astonishing in its crystal clear depth. Two high school friends, Alice, an anorexic, and Mattia, a cutter, conceal a sea of emotion beneath their stoic facades. As adults, after years of separation, a chance encounter for Alice and her subsequent request for Mattia to return home, changes both of them to the core. Paolo Giordano, at 27, is talented far, far beyond his years. This book is excellent.
detailmuse on LibraryThing 28 days ago
The Solitude of Prime Numbers opens in the childhoods of an Italian girl and boy, Alice and Mattia, where separate traumatic incidents alter their lives. Isolation is a factor in the incidents, and is such a continuing fact in their lives that Mattia likens himself to a prime number. Despite becoming acquainted with each other in adolescence, their sense of separateness continues in Mattia¿s characterization of them as twin primes: ¿pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching.¿ The spare narration beautifully evokes their introversion (even autism) and as they grow into adulthood and careers of photography and mathematics, the throughline remains: is solitude their destiny?Though the setting is modern-day Italy, I was disappointed that there is no sense of the country or culture. (In fact I was bumped back to the USA by a couple of passages, including the literal line, ¿Alice doesn¿t live here anymore.¿) Otherwise, it¿s a lovely (though melancholy) and insightful novel with an ending I found wholly satisfying.(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
sspare on LibraryThing 28 days ago
At times achingly depressing, this is nonetheless a well-written story of two lonely people who orbit around one another's loneliness from high school through adulthood.
gbill on LibraryThing 3 months ago
¿The Solitude of Prime Numbers¿ is about two people who have been damaged in childhood and are carrying on in their lives, but who are unable to fully integrate into the world or to completely connect even with those closest to them. Alice is an anorexic who is lame in one leg following a childhood skiing accident. Mattia is a cutter who is brilliant at math but consumed with guilt for having abandoned his retarded twin sister. Their demons and secrets are buried but always present, just below the surface.Likening these people to mathematical prime numbers, combining their awkwardness with moments of comedy, and showing us the world at times through Mattia¿s eyes are all very nice touches by Giordano. The book works on other levels that I could relate to: the difficulties of growing up, of finding love, marriage, and making decisions at those critical moments of truth in one¿s life. Giordano¿s writing is clear yet multi-faceted, and I enjoyed this book.On retreating into studies; I loved this one:¿¿Do you really like studying?¿Mattia nodded.`Why?¿`It¿s the only thing I know how to do,¿ he said shortly. He wanted to tell her that he liked studying because you can do it alone, because all the things you study are already dead, cold, and chewed over. He wanted to tell her that the pages of the schoolbooks were all the same temperature, that they left you time to choose, that they never hurt you and you couldn¿t hurt them either. But he said nothing.¿On adolescence:¿For Alice and Mattia, the high school years were an open wound that had seemed so deep that it could never heal. They had passed through them without breathing, he rejecting the world and she feeling rejected by it, and eventually they had noticed that it didn¿t make all that much difference. They had formed a defective and asymmetrical friendship, made up of long absences and much silence, a clean and empty space where both could come back to breathe when the walls of their school became too close for them to ignore the feeling of suffocation.But over time, the wound of adolescence gradually healed.¿On prime numbers (and people):¿In his first year at university, Mattia had learned that, among prime numbers, there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes: pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching. Numbers like 11 and 13, like 17 and 19, 41 and 43. If you have the patience to go on counting, you discover that these pairs gradually become rarer. You encounter increasingly isolated primes, lost in that silent, measured space made only of ciphers, and you develop a distressing presentiment that the pairs encountered up until that point were accidental, that solitude is the true destiny. Then, just when you¿re about to surrender, when you no longer have the desire to go on counting, you come across another pair of twins, clutching each other tightly.¿On sex, as it all falls apart:¿He did everything he could to not make it look like a habit, a duty, but the truth was clear to both of them. They followed a series of movements that had become consolidated into a routine over time, and which made everything simpler, then Fabio entered her, with the help of his fingers.Alice wasn¿t sure that he was really crying, because he held his head tilted to one side to avoid contact with her skin, but she noticed that there was something different in his way of moving. He was thrusting more violently and more urgently than usual, then he would stop suddenly, his breath heavy, and start again, as though torn between the desire to penetrate more deeply and the desire to slip away from her and from the room.¿On sex, at the beginning:¿Once Denis, talking about himself, had told him that all opening moves were the same, like in chess. You don¿t have to come up with anything new, there¿s no point, because you¿re both after the s
Anonymous 3 months ago
LitChick90 More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a good book. It was fairly easy to read, and there were some beautiful lines. I just don't think it's as groundbreaking as its title claims it to be. It seemed a little slow-paced and boring at times, but there was a beautiful meaning embedded within the pages. I would recommend it to a friend.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
Did you ever stand on the edge of the crowd, unbelonging and unable to turn away? If you did, you’ll see something of yourself hidden in Alice or Mattia, both wounded by their childhood attempts to escape. Calming the mind with numbers, soothing the body with pain, starving their thoughts and their feelings, they suddenly find themselves thrown together, with each’s dark unbalance harmonizing the other, and childhood ends. Of course, childhood’s end is messy, inconvenient, and fraught with conflicting purpose. But Paulo Giordano tells the tale of his misfits with beautifully well-fitted words, complex turns of phrase that fly from the page and soar, and fragile emotions aching to be seen instead of ignored. As plans fail and lives flail, growing apart replaces growing together for these two stranded characters. A chance encounter might restore what’s lost, but there’s a core of genuine, unpredictable feeling underneath the mathematical precisions of separation. The novel slowly opens to reveal a view wider than mountainscapes, deeper than rivers, and more honest than fiction is usually allowed to be. If you want glib and easy, this isn’t the book for you. If you want gritty, broken, and quietly healed, it is. Disclosure: A friend loaned me her copy, correctly guessing I would really enjoy it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The writing is excellent, the story unusual, the perspectives and characters unique. The ending was abrupt and ... disappointing.
MelH21 More than 1 year ago
It was exceptional! I couldn't put it down and read it within a day. Would highly recommend to anyone! 
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