Summary and book reviews of The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

A Novel

by Paolo Giordano

The Solitude of Prime Numbers
  • Critics' Opinion:

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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About this Book

Book Summary

A bestselling international literary sensation about whether a "prime number" can ever truly connect with someone else.

A prime number can only be divided by itself or by one—it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia, both "primes," are misfits who seem destined to be alone. Haunted by childhood tragedies that mark their lives, they cannot reach out to anyone else. When Alice and Mattia meet as teenagers, they recognize in each other a kindred, damaged spirit.

But the mathematically gifted Mattia accepts a research position that takes him thousands of miles away, and the two are forced to separate. Then a chance occurrence reunites them and forces a lifetime of concealed emotion to the surface.

Like Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, this is a stunning meditation on loneliness, love, and the weight of childhood experience that is set to become a universal classic.

1

Alice Della Rocca hated ski school. She hated getting up at seven-thirty, even during Christmas vacation. She hated her father staring at her over breakfast, his leg dancing nervously under the table as if to say hurry up, get a move on. She hated the woolen tights that made her thighs itch, the mittens that kept her from moving her fingers, the helmet that squashed her cheeks, and the big, too tight boots that made her walk like a gorilla.

“Are you going to drink that milk or not?” her father insisted again.

Alice gulped down three inches of boiling milk, burning her tongue, throat, and stomach.

“Good, today you can show us what you’re really made of.”

What’s that? Alice wondered.

He shoved her out the door, mummified in a green ski suit dot­ted with badges and the fluorescent logos of the sponsors. It was 14 degrees and a gray fog enveloped everything. Alice felt the milk swirling around in her stomach as she sank into the ...

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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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Those who have an interest in psychology - we who are obsessed with why people do the things they do, all the inner workings of humans - will find much to like here. Virtually all of this book happens inside someone's head... The tiny instances that become founding principles in a person's actions; the thoughtless word or action that ruins a relationship - these things are laid bare in the lives of two children as they grow to adulthood... This book is not a fairy tale, so there is no happy ending wrapped up in a bow. What we get is an ending worthy of the story, with hope for those willing to make a different choice. The book is not long or complicated, but once I started liking these people, I was pulled along by the desire to see these people let just one person truly know them.   (Reviewed by Beverly Melven).

Full Review Members Only (637 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Richard Eder

An exquisite rendering of what one might call feelings at the subatomic level, emotion's muons, gluons and quarks.

Entertainment Weekly

The melancholy that hangs over The Solitude of Prime Numbers is seductive and unnerving. From the moment we meet young [Alice and Mattia] we're engrossed by the way in which a dreadful combination of faulty brain wiring and rotten luck propels each child's future, like number sequences locking into place. (A-)

Publishers Weekly

The novel's bleak subject matter is rendered almost beautiful by Giordano's spare, intense focus on his two characters.

Booklist

A quietly explosive ending completes the novel in just the fashion it was started, as an intimate psychological portrait of two “prime numbers”—together alone and alone together.

Kirkus Reviews

A bestseller in Europe, winner of the Premio Strega in the author's native Italy, this compelling debut shows a remarkable sensitivity and maturity in the depiction of its damaged soulmates. Fragile, unconventional love story by a talent to watch.

Emilia Ippolito, The Independent (UK)

Not a bad result for a first attempt at fiction by a promising hope for the future of Italian literature.

Tobias Jones, The Guardian (UK)

I was fully expecting, purely for reasons of professional envy, to dislike this book. Anyone whose first novel sells more than a million copies worldwide, and goes on to win Italy's most prestigious literary prize, the Premio Strega, is bound to turn the rest of us slightly green. Add to that the fact that Paolo Giordano is the right side of 30 and that writing is, for him, but a hobby (he's actually a particle physicist) and you'll understand why I was tightening up my laces to give his pretentiously titled tome a good kicking. But actually it's a very accomplished book and deserves all its success.

The Daily Mail (UK)

In this otherwise sombre book, Giordano posits the possibilities of ballast, connection and hope, allowing a modicum of light into their benighted lives as adulthood tempers their anxieties. A stunning achievement.

Reader Reviews

Louise J.

Sad Yet Beautiful
The story centers around three main characters: Alice, Michela, and Mattia. Alice lives with her parents and has always defied them in some way. When she was younger she hated attending ski school and at age fifteen she wanted a tattoo but her ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Prime Numbers

Prime numbers are apparently a big deal in the math world - a place I have visited but not inhabited often. Most of us probably remember that prime numbers are numbers only divisible by themselves and 1, but otherwise don't know (or care) much about them.

The ancient Greeks were the first to give serious study to prime numbers, as far back as 500 BC. After much math excitement, it seems that not much was learned from about 200 BC until the Renaissance. New strides were made again with the advent of computers that could do millions of equations to prove or disprove the presence of prime numbers yet to be discovered.

Currently, the largest known prime number has 1209780189 digits. And there are websites with lists of the largest ...

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