For me, a quote from the first page of the 20th chapter of The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paola Giordano, sums the nature of this book exactly:
For Alice and Mattia, the high school years were an open wound that had seemed so deep that it could never heal. They had passed through them without breathing, he rejecting the world and she feeling rejected by it, and eventually they had noticed that it didn’t make all that much difference.
If you are looking for a book with a twist, one in which our protagonists find themselves having to overcome the extraordinary in unusual circumstances, or a thriller crime drama with an unsuspected villain at the end, then this is not your book.
Instead, the art of this book is its brilliant use of the unspoken. The characters that are not fully developed, not because Giordano couldn’t be bothered, but because they themselves have failed to connect with the world around hem, say little and do little; and yet they tell a story.
Alice had a difficult childhood with an overbearing father who doesn’t seem to be able to communicate, connect or relate to his daughter. Her mother is equally as dissassociative and ill to boot. Alice is injured physically in an accident but also mentally damaged and suffers from annorexia. Mattia self harms while carrying the guilt of his role in his sister’s disappearance. These two damaged characters find themselves amid the torturous influences of Viola, a dislikeable but just as suffering nemesis. We as readers also suffer through the relationships that they have with others. Mattia is completely unresponsive to his parents and they seem to be guiltily relieved to see the back of him. Alice not only shuts down from her parents but is also able (when she does speak to them) to convey her complete disregard of them.
And this is what brings the book to head; the idea that
Choices are made in brief seconds and paid for in the time that remains (p.264).
The story revolves around the relationship between two people who relate more to the unsaid meanings and the space between each other than they do to any physical or emotional ties that they have. Their relationship is equally damaging as it is symbiotic. They are the only ones who understand each other, yet likewise, their complicity in each other’s physical and emotional demise is at times hard to bear.
I’ve read some of the reviews for this book and found that many readers hated the loosely tied and unresolved ending. They found the characters to be characterless. But I thought that a quote from the book explains this quite well:
…because the love of those we don’t love in return settles on the surface and from there quickly evaporates (pg. 224).
We as readers are not being asked to love either Alice or Mattia, nor their evaporative feelings toward the world in which they seem forced to live, but rather we are asked to appreciate their orbit around each other and the space that exists between them.
I was not able to put this book down and I was equally impressed with the last chapter. Alice and Mattia are unapologetic in their dysfunction. They are what they are and for better or worse it will not change.
You may or may not appreciate this book but for me it was a bloody good read and worth a view. Look out for Chapter 30. I got perhaps too much pleasure out of Alice’s revenge on Viola.
Happy reading readers!