The Solitude of Prime Numbers: A Novel

The Solitude of Prime Numbers: A Novel - Paolo Giordano The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano is the second beautiful but sad Italian novel. Well, if I’m being honest, it’s downright depressing, but not in the week-long funk inducing way that Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King were. The beauty of the Giordano’s prose tempers the dreary subject matter, which is a sad tale about two broken people trying to deal with the “weight of consequences,” as Alice, one of the book’s protagonists puts it. Both of the actions that create weighty consequences happen in the first two chapters of the novel. For Alice, it’s an unfortunate accident. For Mattia, the other protagonist, it’s an unthinking, childish need to be normal for the space of a birthday party. These actions haunt each character, to the extent that both retreat from the world into solitary obsessions. Mattia turns to the solitude of numbers, and Alice to starving herself. They use these obsessions to create iron-clad barriers between themselves and everyone else, including each other.The novel follows them from youth, the time surrounding each incident, through adolescence when Alice and Mattia meet and form a timid friendship, and then through early adulthood. What is most depressing about this novel for me was the fact that both Alice and Mattia recognize one another for who they are and have the capacity to understand each other. And yet, time and again, neither will take the action that could save them both. The last two pages of the novel helped, gave some hope, but the novel as a whole is pretty bleak. But it is also quite beautiful, and that’s why I continued with it. I also kept hoping that Alice and Mattia would get their shit figured out.The cast of characters is fairly small, which is good since Giordano sometimes jumps into various heads to offer differing perspectives, not on the same event, but rather as a way to show us how others see the primary two characters. It’s done well and not nearly as jolting as it was in Swimming to Elba, and for that I’m grateful. I realize that I really don’t read much contemporary “literature,” and because of that am not used to it’s tropes. I usually read as an escape and don’t usually enjoy reading about someone who could be my next door neighbor. I need something other, so international contemporary literature or anything pre-1980s is generally acceptable. I’m about to start rambling, so my final verdict is that this is a well-written meditation on the loneliness we inflict on ourselves and the weight of consequences. It is quiet and sometimes lovely, but also heavy and suffocating, like water at the bottom of a river on a warm summer day.