"The Solitude of Prime Numbers"

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

I just finished reading this and am still trying to decide what I think of it. The main characters, Alice and Mattia, are both so wounded that they barely function in society. Their painful experiences were hard to read, but it's a credit to the author that he made me feel their misery.

Mattia is haunted by the loss of his twin sister in childhood, a loss for which he is responsible. Alice's life was changed forever when her leg was permanently damaged in a skiing accident as a little girl, for which she blames her father. They suffer through their school years, both the brunt of cruel jokes by other kids, and eventually they meet in all their mutual awkwardness to begin a friendship of sorts.

Mattia is a brilliant student who becomes a Professor of Mathematics at a European university, while Alice quits university and apprentices herself to a photographer. As years pass they grow apart and lose touch. Mattias has always seen himself and Alice as prime numbers, misfits who are unlike everyone else. He compares them specifically to twin primes, those prime numbers that are close together but still separated, never quite touching, like 17 and 19, or 41 and 43.

At one point Mattia thinks that he and Alice are "united by an invisible, elastic thread buried under a pile of meaningless things, a thread that could exist only between two people like themselves: two people who had acknowledged their own solitude within the other." Is that thread strong enough to connect  twin prime numbers that are never side by side?

I can't say I liked the book; it's too full of misery to enjoy it. I do think it's well written, with real insight into the emotional ramifications of childhood trauma. I found the characters' pain almost overwhelming. They can't help, to a certain extent, who they are, but their problems keep them so self-involved that they hurt other people, people who care about them. They are utterly incapable of returning any affection given to them, so everyone gets hurt.

I'm still trying to figure out the ending. I have a fairly good idea about Mattia but exactly what happens with Alice is a little vague. Anyway, do read it if you get the chance. See what you think then please come back and let me know because I'd love to hear other viewpoints. I may not have loved it, but it certainly was memorable.


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