MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Reading guide for The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

A Novel

by Paolo Giordano

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano X
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 288 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

About the Book

Divisible only by one and themselves, prime numbers stand in stark contrast to natural numbers, upending the orderly logic of mathematics. They are strange, solitary, and disruptive. Like prime numbers, Mattia and Alice are also oddities, united in their loneliness, adrift in the normal world. Unable to fi t in with anyone else, Alice and Mattia are kindred spirits, each bearing the burden of physical and psychological injuries from their childhood. Alice walks with a limp, the result of a skiing accident, and, painfully self-conscious of her body, nurses an eating disorder. Mattia's scars run deeper; devastated by the loss of his mentally handicapped twin sister and racked with guilt over his secret role in her disappearance, Mattia turns his emotional suffering into physical pain, deliberately cutting and burning himself. The relationship between these two damaged young people is the center of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano's brilliantly arresting debut novel.


Giordano's characters are provocative, even disturbing at times, and yet they have a fragility that evokes our sympathy. As Alice struggles to navigate the cruel and arbitrary rules of high school, she reaches out and retreats inward in equal measure, and when she is rebuked by her classmates, she turns to Mattia as her only friend. But while Alice is rejected by the world, Mattia, in turn, rejects the world itself, severing himself from any visible emotional contact with anyone else. He escapes into numbers, replacing the chaos of life with the peaceful structures of mathematics—and yet, even there, he finds Alice. Together they pass through adolescence into adulthood, and their private world expands to include a constellation of characters who love, desire, despise, and ignore them. Clinging together and yet never able to connect fully, Mattia and Alice are forced to question whether it's possible to unlock themselves from their painful pasts and overcome their deep loneliness by reaching out to each other. With artful precision, Giordano illustrates the bitter beauty of love and loss and how the two extremes are permanently intertwined. His novel is a brutally honest yet generous portrayal of two struggling souls. Mattia and Alice are neither good nor bad people, they are simply human, but they pay a deep price for the choices they make. Complex and compelling, The Solitude of Prime Numbers is an unsettling look at how the effects of a single moment can reverberate through a lifetime.


Discussion Questions
  1. What pleasure or power do Mattia and Alice get from harming their bodies? Think about the moments in the novel when these acts occur. Do you think they are in response to something and, if so, what?

  2. There is a brief moment at Viola's party where Alice and Mattia walk together and their respective scars seem to melt into one another and disappear. How? In what other ways are Mattia and Alice complementary?

  3. Examine the relationship between Alice and Viola. Based on Alice's feelings toward Viola and Viola's treatment of Alice, what do you think about Alice's actions when they meet later in life?

  4. What is it about adolescence that makes people so cruel? What was your own adolescence like? Did Mattia's and Alice's experience with their peers echo your own in any way?

  5. Where are the parents in this novel? What presence or power do they assert? Why?

  6. Was Mattia's action with his sister understandable? Was he aware of the possible consequences or not? Should children be held accountable when their actions have such severe consequences?

  7. One of Alice's few pleasures in life is photography, an art that consists of capturing a moment and presenting it according to one's own perspective. Why is this pursuit appropriate for Alice?

  8. Mattia believes that "feeling special is the worst kind of cage that a person can build." What do you think he means by this?

  9. Do you think Alice really sees Michela in the hospital or was she hallucinating? Why?

  10. Examine the last paragraph of the novel. What is being said here? What happens to Alice? What happens to Mattia?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Cantoras
    by Carolina De Robertis
    Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis follows five characters who share a house, troubles, joys and parts...
  • Book Jacket: Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
    Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
    by Ava Homa
    Ava Homa's debut novel begins with an epigraph by Sherko Bekas, a Kurdish poet, the last lines of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Book of V.
    The Book of V.
    by Anna Solomon
    In ancient Persia, Esther, a young Jewish woman, parades herself in front of the king in a desperate...
  • Book Jacket: How to Be an Antiracist
    How to Be an Antiracist
    by Ibram X. Kendi
    Ibram X. Kendi opens How to Be an Antiracist with a personal story he finds shameful in retrospect, ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Voyage of the Morning Light
    by Marina Endicott

    A sweeping novel set aboard a merchant ship sailing through the South Pacific in 1912.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Train to Key West
    by Chanel Cleeton

    Romance and danger are locked into Cleeton's suitcase for this journey to 1935 Key West.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
by Christy Lefteri

This moving, intimate, and beautifully written novel puts human faces on the Syrian war.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Of Bears and Ballots

An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics

A charming account of holding local office with an entertaining, quirky cast of characters.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S Louder T W

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.