A Young Physicist Makes His Literary Debut
Book review: The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano, pub date 3/18/10, paperback available 3/29/11
Last year saw the rise of a young literary star who, surprisingly, happens to be an accomplished physicist. Twenty-eight-year-old Paolo Giordano’s The Solitude of Prime Numbers, translated from the Italian, was the winner of Italy’s prestigious Premio Strega award, catching the eye of the international publishing community. This debut novel tells the story of Mattia and Alice, beginning in their awkward childhoods and following them through to their uncomfortable adulthoods. When we first meet them, they are each experiencing a trauma that will forever alter their ability to interact with others. Mattia, a young genius who is embarrassed by his mentally handicapped twin sister, makes a grave miscalculation that leaves him incapable of forgiving himself. Alice, a young girl on her way to becoming a professional skier, has an almost fatal accident that shatters her self-confidence. Once the two outcasts lay eyes on one another in adolescence, it’s uncertainty at first sight. Just as a prime number is indivisible by any other number, they are complete in themselves and so can never connect with anyone else. Mattia is incapable of having a relationship and Alice enters into an empty marriage, which she deals with by starving herself. Neither of the two friends are can connect with another human being, but because of this, they are somehow able to relate to one another.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a stark and quiet novel, with writing much like the main characters: well-developed, moody, and complicated. The plot is is secondary to the wonderful narrative and pacing. It plods along rhythmically, leaving the reader wondering when something will happen. It doesn’t, but the concise and profound writing makes it worth the read. Ultimately it is about the strange, offering up the position that the socially-awkward do not wish to fit in, but hope only to remain on the sidelines and be left alone.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers will be available in paperback on March 29.