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Insights from a person of questionable sanity

Solitude is the true destiny...

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'If you have the patience to go on counting, you discover that these pairs gradually become rarer. You encounter increasingly isolated primes, lost in that silent, measured space made only of ciphers, and you develop distressing presentiment that the pairs encountered up until that point were accidental, that solitude is true destiny [...] Mattia thought that he and Alice were like that, twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough to really touch each other'
Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano.

I'm glad I read this immediately after Stephanie Myer's leaked 'Midnight Sun: draft' as it restored my faith in both good literature and teenagers. Paolo Giordano, author of the Italian novel The Solitude of Prime Numbers, welcomes you back to the awkward and somewhat painful years of your teenage years but before you panic, please note, there are no vampires - even of the vegetarian kind.

Winner of the Italian Man Booker, this bildungsroman captures the angst and trauma of two teenagers, Mattia and Alice, and follows their development (if you can call it that) into adults. Both Mattia and Alice suffer a traumatic event in their childhood, of which the reverberations are felt even in adulthood. It serves as a small reminder in our much troubled climate that what we do today will inevitably affect what happens tomorrow.

Alice, under the pressure of her pushy father, nearly loses a leg in a ski accident; she is left crippled. Her subsequent obsession - or rather insecurity with her body - develops into an illness that is kept a secret even from the reader: anorexia. In her married life and contrary to the desires of her husband, she is unable to conceive children because of the way she'd damaged her body for years; thus the foundations of an unhappy marriage is set.

I found Mattia’s story of more interest: he is a genius but with a mentally ill twin sister. Under the cruelty of high school and out of embarrassment on his way to a birthday party, he ditches his twin sister in the park – with full intention of going back later to get her. As fate would have it, when he returns hours at night, she is not there. The family never really find out what happened to Michela, his twin. They all assume she drowned, although her body was never found. There is a glimmer of hope towards the end of the novel but like everything else that is left unsaid, so is this. Mattia, like Alice, copes through self-harm.

The idea behind the melancholy title becomes clear approximately half way into the novel : Mattia, who finds it easier to relate to numbers than others, believes that he and Alice are twin prime numbers: 11 and 13; 17 and 19 and so on; they are outcasts from society; they are forever close and connected but never quite able to touch. Beautiful notion right? If you put the book down, detesting the eternal melancholy manifested in the characters, you can at least go away with this poignant concept. As you’re reading the novel you expect them ‘to get it on’, waiting for one of them to declare their feelings explicitly, knowing all the while that they are made for each other. Pause. It dawns on you the full meaning of Mattia’s notion: they are twin prime numbers. It will never be. Solitude is their true destiny.Nevertheless, you deny this, especially when their paths cross again many years later. Surely, surely this time they can share their solitude together, that perhaps they can come together through the acknowledgement of their shared solitude within each other...

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