Italy in Books - The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

This was going to be my February entry in the Italy in Books reading challenge, but life had it's wicked way with me and I finished the book 30 minutes too late (i.e. into March) and hence, I missed the deadline. However, I've started so I'll finish. Here's my review of 'The Solitude of Prime Numbers' by Paolo Giordano. It's a corker, I didn't want you to miss out ;-)

This book was recommended to me by a friend and has intrigued me for a while so I've kind of shoe-horned it into the challenge. It's loosely set in Italy and some foreign (undisclosed as far as I could tell) northern European country. It's not one of those hey look how sweet my life is in italy books. If anything, it's set partially in Italy purely because the author is Italian. This book is about relationships and choices, how you can feel alone while being in a room full of people, and how sometimes things don't work out as in the movies.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers follows the lives of two people, Mattia and Alice, recounting character-building (and destroying) episodes during their formative years, and their subsequent search for that missing something as they get older. They are both troubled, but in different ways. Mattia, a precocious mathematical genius, finds solace in numbers, calculating formula and equations rather than chitchat and is often simply rude in order to achieve the least social interaction. He appears to be a difficult person to have a friend and he seems borderline autistic (although there's nothing wrong with that). He is troubled by a lost twin sister, who, while being a twin, was troubled herself, struggling to adapt to life due to her mental retardation. In a heart-wrenching few pages, a young Mattia decides to leave his sister in a park rather than face the embarrassment of going to a school friends party with her. He never sees her again. This only adds to his disenfranchisement with society. Alice, on the other hand, has suffered from an over-bearing father, who has pushed her to achieve, taking the fun out of life. She suffers a broken leg in a skiing accident that leaves her with a severe limp and a sour outlook. This alienates her further from her peers, leaving her, like Mattia, on the outside, not even caring to look in. Yet, despite their indifference, they somehow get through life with well-meaning friends and lovers, while missing something, some connection that would complete their lives The romantics among you may spot what they could be missing, the book even gives us tantalizingly romantic phrases such as “Between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching” (bet you haven't tried that one on a Saturday night), and yet at the same time, they are such loners you simply can't imagine them realizing a good thing when they see it. You almost want to shake them and tell them to sort themselves out.

It's a strange book in some ways, almost mathematical in its style. It's cold, insensitive and objective in it's portrayal of the characters and their situations. I found myself not caring for them and yet at the same moment I was getting frustrated with them for their lack of emotional intelligence or response to a missed opportunity. At the end of the book however, I found myself warmed to and by the story, as if finally I had connected with the characters and understood their lives from their perspective. It's well written, generating a mood and ambiance for the story more through what isn't written (or what is simply coldly noted) rather than through long descriptive passages. It's a good book, that challenged me and made me think. If you fancy reading something that isn't formulaic and that does make you think of the randomness of life, then you can do far worse than The Solitude of Prime Numbers (this is a link to the Lazio Explorer Amazon store where you can find more reviews).

As mentioned above, this was for the Italy in Books reading challenge. The other February book reviews can be found here. Right, let's see if I can read something Italy-related before the end of March!


  1. Interesting review I may look out for this one, if I need some more titles for the challenge. You say this was going to be your February entry, not sure I understand why it could not be, deadline? It is a list of books we all read in February and you did well 99.9% of it!

  2. Thanks for your comment! I guess it is my February entry, although I missed the prize draw (not that that really matters in any way), so I just felt as if I'd missed the official 'entry' guidelines. Anyway, I'll try to do better for March!