Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano (Penguin Group, 2008) 271 pp.

Sometimes I cannot surmise why or how a book has touched me. This is such a book. So I think you will find I have little to say here of substance. But that does not reflect on the quality of the book, merely my inability to express my appreciation.

Two individuals, haunted by unhappy histories, connect (in a fashion) then come apart only to be brought together again.
In various ways both Mattia and Alice, the two main characters, are somewhat perfectly matched - two delicate flowers unable to withstand the vicissitudes of life.

Mattia is a brilliant mathematician who has a propensity towards self-mutilation which both frightens and bewilders his family. Alice, crippled by a skiing mishap when young, is anorexic and seemingly unable to connect emotionally with anyone. Her accident is linked to an aggressive and overly competitive father. But Alice is much tougher than Mattia in some ways.

When, as an adult, Alice is working as a wedding photographer and finds herself at the wedding of Viola, an old nemesis from highschool who inflicted a number of humiliations on her, she takes her revenge effectively and savagely.

Mattia is more passive, preferring to withdraw and withold affection from those who care for him and severing contact first from Alice and then from his family. He takes refuge in counting rituals - a sort of mathematical OCD

Both have terrible secrets. Mattia rarely acknowleges, if ever, the disappearance of his twin, a troubled, mentally challenged girl named Michela whom he disliked and was repulsed by. Alice hides the secret rituals which she uses to control her body and her presence in the world. This she conceals firstly from her family and then her husband Fabio.

Neither can connect nor forge emotional bonds or explain themselves. Alice never bonds with her husband; Mattia never finds a partner.

There is a meeting at the end but it is unclear that the issues are resolved.

You look at the face of Paolo Giordano with its fine features and gentle intelligence and you wonder ... how was he able to access such sorrows?

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

This is a book I would like to read someday. Have had my eye on it for a while - but maybe later when I am better.

When I read A Thousand Splendid Suns I had the same feelings you describe - awe at the author's empathy and ability to step into someone else's mind. Awesome.