4 out of 5 hearts
I read The Solitude of Prime Numbers because my good friend Valerie recommended it to me. This is one book that was highly recommended and I did enjoy. At the beginning, I was somewhat lost because it read like a collection of short stories. Then as the plot developed, I found that I had a difficult time trying to make sense of it. It was exceptionally well written, but it is a book you can not read with a personal perspective.
Alice and Mattia both suffer from tragic cases of loneliness. Alice suffered a skiing accident when she was younger, which resulted in a large scar around her hip area. She developed extremely unhealthy self-image issues leading to a lifelong case of anorexia. Mattia had a twin sister, Michela, who had down syndrome. Her disability caused a great deal of embarrassment to Mattia, so he leaves her alone in a park on his way to a classmate's birthday party while he was in the third grade. When he returns to the park for Michela, she is nowhere to be found and Mattia grows into adulthood with his guilt, inflicting his hands with cuts and burns to punish himself.
Alice and Mattia become best friends in high school, ironically after they attend a malicious popular girl's party. They fall in love with the other as their friendship stretches out. Although they are best friends, there is a gap between them blocked by each one's internal turmoil. Upon graduation from university, Mattia is offered a teaching job at a distant university. Each is too afraid to tell the other how he feels and allow the moment to slip away. Mattia moves away and does not come back until 9 years later. Alice moves on to marry a doctor. A coincidental series of events forces Alice to reconnect with Mattia, making him come back home, and a second chance presents itself. Only one of them needs to rid himself of his inhibitions and say the words that have been boiling away for years.
As I wrote, I had a difficult time with this book in the beginning because I put myself Alice's and Mattia's shoes and know I would have acted differently. However, when I let that go and read the book as it was written, I began to comprehend the direction of it better. Giordano did not write this with the intention of making it a beautiful love story. Instead, he highlights the consequences of our actions on ourselves and their effects on the people we love - whether it is solitary confinement, talking yourself out of something, holding back feelings, etc. Most importantly, he flat out puts us on the spot for making ourselves lonely; we are social creatures and most of the times we are lonely, it is because we choose to be lonely, not because we want to. And there is a difference between being lonely and alone.
Giordano is a talented writer and his words have a fluidity to them that it is easy to forget I was reading a translation of the original. The POV switches from Alice to Mattia and the transitions are seamless. In the end, it is surprising to realize the story is Alice's since Giordano incorporates Mattia's perspective. Now that I think about it, it was a brilliant tactic since this is a story about solitude.
It is not a happy read, per say, but the words are like liquid tears; you can almost feel them on your palms.
"They lived the slow and invisible interpenetration of their universes, like two stars gravitating around a common axis in ever tighter orbits, whose clear destiny is to coalesce at some point in space and time." - Paolo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers
Hardcover, 271 pages
Published March 18th 2010 by Pamela Dorman Books (first published 2008)
ISBN 0670021482 (ISBN13: 9780670021482)
Edition Language: English