Thursday, June 21, 2012

Book Review #22: The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

I have so much to say and one of them is I'm peeved that this book is (relatively) obscured although it's an international bestseller. I'm glad that my first time with Italian literature was in the hands of Paolo Giordano. He gave me the most exquisite, heart-wrenching experience. This book is special because:

I rather enjoy solitude, myself. I have no obligations to answer social calls, to answer somebody else's needs, to drain myself emotionally, I don't need to look a certain way. I have the liberty to wake up and know with relief that no one's at home because I don't like entertaining people at that time -- I can eat breakfast alone which I enjoy, watch television alone and be alone. But hey, I'm not George Clooney in Up in the Air. I tire of solitude and wish for companionship in time. Being solitary and feeling lonely are different. Whilst I'm enjoying my solitary confinement at home, I rarely feel lonely. It's because my being solitary is not permanent. Family will eventually come home, my friends talk to me everyday -- I've always had somewhere to go and people to connect with.

The place I'm at is entirely different from the characters Mattia and Alice's -- Mattia rejects society; Alice is rejected by society. So I may never know what it feels like to be them because their solitude lasts a lifetime. Giordano ensures that in his debut novel, people like me suffer through Mattia and Alice's lives of solitude -- their lives as prime numbers.

"A prime number is a lonely thing. It can only be divisible by itself or by one, it never truly fits with another... Mattia thought he and Alice were like that, twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough to really touch each other. He had never told her that."

When both of them meet as adolescents, they are both physically flawed. Alice is a cripple and an anorexic, as a result of a skiing accident when she was a child. Mattia became a self-mutilator after he abandoned his mentally challenged twin sister in the park and she was never found again. Whilst Mattia is a mathematical genius, he retreats from everything else except the solid and predictable confinement that numbers give him. 

It goes deeper than that. Their families are dysfunctional, Alice's father is domineering and Mattia's parents are uncommunicative. Basically, their "prime" ways are never in tune with anybody except perhaps... with each other? 

Giordano wrote this bildungsroman with such elegance that made my reading it even more painful. The fluid, calm prose describing the skiing incident, Mattia's burning of his palm, Alice's refusal to face her inner torment, the general awkwardness between characters made me feel utterly emotional at 3am -- I finished this in one day which is odd. 

Seeing the characters make the same unfortunate decisions over the course of their lives was frustrating. The fact that Alice is an anorexic confused me. What couldn't she control that she felt that she needed to control her food? She could've done things differently, she could've pulled Mattia out of his abyss as she was the bolder one. But, no. Mattia, reminds me of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting and Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. Someone who has a brilliant mind but who's a misfit in society who has a hard time doing everyday things like kissing or driving. He knew what to do, how to end the torment and how to ignite the sparks he feels for Alice. But, disappointing me more than himself, he never bothered to -- not enough.

Something I can't get out of mind was when Mattia's father tried to kiss him before Mattia leaves the car but he was unable to as he was restrained by the seatbelt. The restraining seatbelt symbolises the ever present gap between their relationship, one which stemmed from his sister's presence and sudden death. And goodness, how would you feel if you were born a mathematical genius while your twin sister was retarded? And you were responsible for her being missing/dead?

I want to say I hate missed opportunities. I hate it when because of the lack of trying, lack of communication and clarification which result in separation. But, somehow, I can't say that it ended the way it did because of missed opportunities. I think the characters decided that way. Because they are prime numbers, they are that way and they are comfortable in such agony, I suppose. To you and I, they deserved something more but for them, it was an appropriate ending.

Some complained it was pretentious. I thought it was naked and stark. This was also not as "stuffy" as some sad novels are out there. Taking us from the year 1983 to 2007, the author managed a very intelligent portrayal of two people who are (brace yourself for the cliche) so close yet so far. 

Genre: Contemporary fiction
Pages: 271 pages

Some marveling at the author:

Paolo Giordano is scruffy and handsome. He has a PhD in particle physics. Did I mention the astounding fact that he's only 26 years old? I have a presumptuous image of a PhD holder in particle physics and he DOES NOT look the way Giordano does. How can a man be European, young, handsome, intelligent and a fantastic writer? These facts alone can be incentive for you to read and see. ;)

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