I love math analogies, and The Solitude of Prime Numbers is everything I adore plus more. It’s poignant, thought-provoking, and has so much depth that sometimes it’s hard to keep reading because sometimes one particular scene or conversation hits me and I just need to put down the book and go, “Woah.” (Has a book ever made you do that?) Giordano brings up a lot of important issues about self-awareness, mental illnesses, and growing up, and Shaun Whiteside did a fantastic job translating this book.
When she was a kid, Alice had a skiing accident that resulted in a limp that never went away. Around the same time, Mattia left his disabled twin sister in a park to go to a birthday party, and she was never found again. The two meet in high school, and something about still being emotionally scarred from their childhood and being misfits bonded them. Their strange relationship continues into college until Mattia accepts a research position out of the country after graduation. As Alice and Mattia go their separate ways in adulthood, their lives intersect again at some point… but will they continue to dance around each other like a pair of prime numbers?
Mattia thought that he and Alice were like that, twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough to really touch each other.
Alice and Mattia are both traumatized souls whose personalities make others stay away from them. Alice, whose skiing accident and emotional scars stem from her father’s high expectations of her, is anorexic when she’s introduced to us as a high school student; Mattia, a mathematical genius whose parents don’t know how to deal with him, cuts himself. These two protagonists aren’t your average protagonists, and their thoughts are just so beautiful, sad, and even unrelatable at times. Yet their traumas brought them closer together, and I could almost feel the pull of how they gravitate towards one another. At some point that ship was going to sail and I just KNEW it, but Giordano never brings up the word “love.” Alice and Mattia are just Alice-and-Mattia as some kind of given, maybe as kind-of-friends or kind-of-lovers or kind-of-soulmates, but the beauty of twin primes is that they’re always separated even though they’re so close. And thus is Alice and Mattia’s relationship.
She hadn’t chosen him over all the others. The truth was that she hadn’t even thought about anyone else.
And for a ship that I’m not quite sure ever sailed, Alice and Mattia are still great characters with unique experiences even after they’re physically and emotionally distant from one another when Mattia goes off to do things that geniuses do. They’re still misfits, but they’ve grown since they’ve met each other, and they’ve been changed for the better – or at least more comfortable with themselves.
And soooo many quotable, beautiful passages! I have to mention Shaun Whiteside again, because I’m sure The Solitude of Prime Numbers wouldn’t have been so captivating otherwise.
She couldn’t remember what they had talked about, only that she had looked at her rapt from a place just behind her eyes, a place full of jumbled thoughts that she had kept to herself even then.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a love story, but not quite a love story. It’s a story about loneliness, but not quite loneliness. Giordano weaves math elegantly and naturally into the story (his PhD in physics may have helped), and this story left me satisfied (but not quite satisfied). Books that gave me similar feelings are Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, but with more yearning and shipping and angst. And I’ll just leave one more gif from the movie here, because OMG this ship I can’t even.