By the time Alice and Mattia meet each other as teens, they are damaged goods, each having suffered a childhood trauma. They are alone, and in that aloneness they make a pair. As they reach young adulthood, their paths are unique yet constrained by parallel problems. When Mattia is offered a job across the continent, he and Alice find themselves once again facing the world alone.
In The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano explores the other worldliness of being different, the eeriness of having parents who don't know how to nurture, the meanness of teenagers, and the confusion of awaking sexuality. When quite young, Mattia and Alice each made a single decision that led to a disastrous result. As a consequence, they seem to live in reaction to what others think and become swept away by circumstances, not truly making conscious choices and not fully engaging in relationships. Even their friendship was one they stumbled into, or perhaps were tricked into.
After Mattia moves away, they find themselves in limbo: neither disentangling themselves from each other nor weaving their lives with the threads of those around them. Are their dreams of each other based in reality, familiarity, possibility, or expectation? What would happen if they saw each other again?
Giordano, a physicist, uses two principal symbols throughout the book. First are the concepts of prime and twin prime numbers, which explain, or perhaps solidify, Mattia and Alice's lives and relationship. The math is not heavy handed but adds to the mood of the novel. As the book jacket reminds us, a prime number can be divided only by itself or by one, and that is exactly what happens to Mattia and Alice.
Another recurring symbol is water: as snow, as fog, as river, as ocean. Mattia and Alice each experience water in its many manifestations and come to know how it harms and heals, creates anxiety and soothes.
Despite the sometimes painful journey, the novel ends with hope.
Although I received a review copy of the book, I opted to listen to the audio edition, produced by Brilliance Audio and read by Luke Daniels. I did not have trouble listening to Daniels, but I am not sure he was right match for The Solitude of Prime Numbers. I cannot pinpoint what bothered me, but perhaps it was the lack of strong emotion at some of the more intense moments. Unless you have a high tolerance for audiobooks, I suggest reading this book in print.
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Published by Viking/Pamela Dorman Books, 2010
Challenges: Audiobook, New Author, Support Your Library, 100+
Source: Review and borrowed (see review policy)