The weight of consequences

Eloquent beauty from Paolo Giordano

Melissa Morozzo
October 8, 2009

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

by Paolo Giordano


translated by Shaun Whiteside

Doubleday €19,20



It's a terrible thing to say, but I was determined not to like The Solitude of Prime Numbers, the award-winning book by Italian author Paolo Giordano. I'd heard several so-so reports from friends, I found the Italian cover a little disturbing (a face shrouded in leaves) and, to be honest, the title just seemed too good to be true. How could a book ever live up to such a wonderfully intriguing title?


Well, I read it in two days. I read it at work, I read it while I was cooking and I even read it on the bus, despite getting terrible motion sickness between Piazza Leopoldo and via delle Panche.


The story follows the intertwining lives of Alice and Mattia. Both characters' stories are shadowed by two very different childhood tragedies: Alice's life is shattered by a near-fatal skiing accident and Mattia struggles with a guilty secret concerning the disappearance of his twin sister. These painful burdens follow them throughout their teens and into their adult lives.


This novel about family, relationships and dealing with the ‘weight of consequences,' as Alice puts it, probably sounds rather dismal. In fact, without giving away the ending, this is not a happily-ever-after story. Nonetheless, there is something very compelling and real about the two main characters. Also, Giordano's measured and delicate style conveys a depth of emotion in very few words. His light touch makes the story even more moving. Praise also goes to the English translator, Shaun Whiteside: not once does the text pull the reader back down to earth by sounding like a clunky translation.


So who is Paolo Giordano? Not only did he win Italy's Premio Strega at the humble age of 26 (he's the youngest person to ever win), but he's not foremost a writer. By trade he's a physicist, currently working on a doctorate on particle physics. In fact, there's quite a mathematical theme throughout the book, hence the ‘prime numbers.'


Think he sounds a little square? He comes across in interviews as an inteligent, witty, modest and all-round nice guy. If that weren't enough, he's also handsome. Moreover, in The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Giordano convincingly conveys feelings, among them teen angst. Perhaps it's this authenticity that has made the novel such a success. Who doesn't remember the terrifying reign of the cool kids at school? Who doesn't remember attending that first teen party and not knowing what to say when everyone else seemed so at ease?


For the umpteenth time I have learnt the ridiculously obvious lesson of not judging a book by its (Italian) cover. The sadness portrayed in the book has a strikingly eloquent beauty. Not bad for a first novel from a particle physicist who writes as a hobby.


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