Apr 29, 2014

[Books] The Solitude Of Prime Numbers

Most of the books I read tend to be genre fiction - science fiction, fantasy, steampunk and other such stories. It's a natural preference for a geek like me, although I have made exceptions from time to time - a great example being my obsession with the works of Haruki Murakami.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers was a book that I had been considering for some time but didn't immediately go for it given it was largely being presented as a love story. And to be fair, it is in fact a love story of a sort, but not the sort you think. More than anything, the title alone kept pulling me in with the promise of a novel that would probably tap into mathematics somehow.

Eventually a hardbound copy of the book went on sale for less than PHP 100, and so I figured it was a small enough risk to take to get into the book. And while it still wasn't quite what I hoped it to be, it was still a rather interesting book that was written with a certain amount of prose in mind for its overall tone.

Synopsis: The Solitude of Prime Numbers (originally La solitudine dei numeri primi in Italian), is a novel written by Paolo Giordano. The book won the 2008 Strega Prize and was adapted into a movie in 2010.

The story revolves around two individuals that we first meet as children and then continue to follow throughout their lives. First there's Alice, who got into a skiing-related accident that left her disfigured for the rest of her life. She grows up continually trying to please others while obsessing over her appearance. Then there's Mattia, a boy who proves to be a math prodigy, but he suffers the childhood trauma of losing his sister Michela given he left her alone in the park while he went on to enjoy a friend's birthday party. These two incidents of trauma happened with both Alice and Mattia were only 8 years old.

In their teen years they finally come across one another and for some reason sense a certain kinship in their respective brands of social awkwardness. Alice is dealing with anorexia apart from the body issues born from her limp. Mattia is extremely uncomfortable with other people and has inflected cuts on himself a number of times by this point. The two connect, but both seem unable to freely express their feelings, and thus it becomes an unusual friendship. And as they grow into adulthood, their respective life paths lead them back to one another time and time again.

The book certainly starts on a shocking note - the respective stories of trauma of Alice and Mattia are not necessarily easy reading. And it's not because these are scenes with graphic violence or anything silly like that. Instead, they are stories with strong emotional impact - something that speaks highly of the original author and his translation team for this book. The writing definitely follows a prose style that keeps things a little lighter and perhaps almost magical at times, and yet remaining firmly grounded in the real world.

And thus the socially awkward nature of these two characters reminded me a lot of characters like the protagonists in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Giordano clearly has a firm grasp on this sort of tortured emotional psyche that these two characters possessed. An he presents things in a manner that helps you gain a basic understanding of what goes through their minds without alienating them or reducing their character concepts or mere caricatures of actual people.

Having said that though, this is not a book of black and white morality either. There's a lot of great to be found in how things are addressed and times it may even seem a little confusing why the protagonists do what they do. It becomes clear to the reader early on that there has to be more to the relationship between Alice and Mattia than what's on the surface. However, the story was written in a manner that only teases at how things might resolve and ends on a particularly ambiguous note. It's not necessarily a bad ending, but it's certainly a potentially more "artistic" one that leaves a lot of room open for speculation.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is written in a manner that makes it feel like an easy read given the word choices and the brevity of most chapters. But at the same time, this is only to offset the balance for just how complex the struggles of Alice and Mattia are and why it appears to be so difficult for them to just finally get together. Thus the book gets a good 3.5 emotional scars from their traumatic past out of a possible 5.

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