The weight of consequences

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano. 2008. 343 pages

« Deux désespoirs qui se rencontrent, cela peut bien faire un espoir, mais cela prouve seulement que l’espoir est capable de tout… » Romain Gary, Clair de femme. (1)

1983: Alice is skiing against her will, her father wants her to be a ski champion. She’s cold, sick and has a poo on herself with her clothes on. Ashamed and afraid of her father, she leaves the group, gets lost in the fog and has a serious ski accident.

1984: Mattia’s twin sister Michela is mentally retarded. He always needs to take care of her. For once, they’re invited to a birthday party. Mattia wants to go without Michela, to have a free mind. His parents refuse. He abandons Michela in a nearby park. She will never be found again.

After these tragic events, Alice and Mattia have to live with the weight of consequences. She’s lame and anorexic. He feels guilty and expresses it by cutting his hands with whatever he finds. Both have difficulties to trust other people. Mattia has a wide private space around him, he’s almost unreachable. He finds solace in mathematics and especially in algebra. It’s clean, logical and involves no emotion. They meet in high school and start an on-and-off friendship. We follow them at different moments of their lives but I won’t tell what happens to them, to avoid spoilers.

At once I was angry at those parents who don’t take their children’s wishes into account. Alice’s father doesn’t listen and imposes his will. She’s too scared to say she doesn’t like skiing or that she can’t swallow more milk. Her mother is inexistent. Mattia’s parents rely on him to watch Michela in school and ask him to take care of her. As they are twins, they’re in the same class and Mattia is always with her. His parents ask too much, make him take on the responsibilities of adults and don’t let him have the childhood he deserves. Either dictatorial or dismissive, these parents don’t play their roles as confidents, shields and gardeners of young beings. They let their children become dysfunctional adults. Alice’s parents are well aware that she doesn’t eat enough. They don’t react. Mattia’s parents don’t know what to do with that brilliant child who hurts himself.

I thought that Paolo Giordano drew a compassionate portrait of these two broken souls. They fight against a past that eats them alive. Their relationship is strong but complicated.

Giordano’s style is pleasant, sometimes inventive. He managed to avoid corny romance, useless pathos and implausible optimism. Something I can’t nail lacked in this book, I wasn’t really fond of Alice and/or Mattia. I missed the kind of bond you can create with such characters. That’s me, not the book. It’s a good read, it won the Primo Strega, a prestigious literary prize in Italy. I found a good review at the Guardian here.


(1) Two despairs who meet can make a hope, but it only proves that hope is capable of anything…

  1. August 30, 2011 at 7:40 am

    The first thing that struck me was that you wrote a short review which you don’t when you like a book. Then there is a Gary quote (another excellent one by the way) but no quote from the book. Little Sherlock already knew that isn’t going to land on your Top 10 of 2011 in December. I’ve seen this book many times in bookshops and was never really tempted. I had no clue what it’s about but reading your review I’m somewhere inbetween wanting to find out for myself and not interested…


    • August 30, 2011 at 8:50 am

      Your comment made me laugh. Well done Little Sherlock! Someone lent this book to me, I didn’t choose it. Not sure I would have bought it.
      When I published the review, I was surprised by the word count: very low. There are several reasons to all the details you mentioned:
      – I don’t have quotes from the book, which is rare. For example, I have 40 pages of quotes from Sodome et Gomorrhe.
      – If I want to describe the characters in a more precise way, I have to give away spoilers and I don’t want to.

      So it’s a short review. I wasn’t bored by that book at all, I wondered how it would end. But something lacked and I didn’t move from like to love.
      I can’t tell if you’d like it.


  2. August 30, 2011 at 9:14 am

    It would be a curiosity kills the case if I read it and don’t like it and you could tell me “I told you so” but I guess it will neither be as bad as La fille aux yeux d’or nor Les choses


    • August 30, 2011 at 9:30 am

      The cat won’t be killed. It’s a pleasant book. I don’t think you’ll get bored. I’d be interested in reading your review.
      I think my personal English expression is “There’s no accounting for taste”. Isn’t that a great one for me?


  3. August 30, 2011 at 9:15 am

    oops the cat is missing


  4. August 30, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Well, I liked this short review and it tempts me to move my copy of the book up the TBR. Thanks, Emma:)


    • August 30, 2011 at 10:53 am

      I’ll read your review when you publish it.


  5. August 30, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I’ve seen other reviews of this book and think it sounds a courageous and sensitive one. I know I couldn’t read it as I would feel far too furious with the parents to be able to engage with everything it was telling me. I know how some things are just triggers for me! But for anyone who’s interested in the stories of difficult, damaged children, it sounds like a powerful read.


    • August 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

      Damaged, that’s the word. It could have been avoided with proper – not exceptional, just regular – parenting.


  6. August 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    I see the subject of anorexia on the cover. This sounds as though it would make a good film, but perhaps not so hot a book.


    • August 30, 2011 at 4:54 pm

      I see on that both book and film have good reviews. It’s a reference for me. I don’t know why I didn’t like this book more. It can be a very good film indeed if it’s filmed with intelligence.


  7. August 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Despite her anorexia and her bad leg, Alice is in better shape than Mattia. At least she can blame someone else. He can’t.


  8. September 1, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I had never heard of The Solitude of Prime Numbers before reading this review and even if I had, the name would probably have put me off but I’m now quite intrigued. It may be that I have to get round to joining a library as I just can’t afford all of the books I’m noticing on blogs.


    • September 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      Hello Louis, thanks for visiting.
      I’m glad you discovered a book you might enjoy.
      I hope you don’t live in Great Britain, I heard on the radio they’re closing 25% of libraries to cut public expenses.
      Sometimes you can find very cheap used copies of books online.


  9. September 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Kerry reviewed this at Hungry Like the Woolf ( It sounded well done, but not me, your review tempts me more actually but I’ll wait to see what else Giordano does I think.

    Louise, I rather liked the title. It sounds somehow so remote and melancholy, which it seems the book is. Nicely matched.


    • September 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks for the link to Kerry’s blog. It’s not the first time you mention her, I’ll have a closer look at what she reviews.

      I also liked the title and it’s well chosen. Mattia has a fascination for prime numbers. It’s explained in the book.


  1. No trackbacks yet.

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Literary Potpourri

A blog on books and other things literary

Adventures in reading, running and working from home

Liz Dexter muses on freelancing, reading, and running ...

Book Jotter

Reviews, news, features and all things books for passionate readers

A Simpler Way

A Simpler Way to Finance

Buried In Print

Cover myself with words

Bookish Beck

Read to live and live to read

Grab the Lapels

Widening the Margins Since 2013

Gallimaufry Book Studio

"It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent--lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It's as simple as that." -- Tove Jansson

Aux magiciens ès Lettres

Pour tout savoir des petits et grands secrets de la littérature


Adventures in reading

The Pine-Scented Chronicles

Learn. Live. Love.

Contains Multitudes

A reading journal

Thoughts on Papyrus

Exploration of Literature, Cultures & Knowledge

His Futile Preoccupations .....

On a Swiftly Tilting Planet

Sylvie's World is a Library

Reading all you can is a way of life

JacquiWine's Journal

Mostly books, with a little wine writing on the side

An IC Engineer

Just another weblog

Pechorin's Journal

A literary blog

Somali Bookaholic

Discovering myself and the world through reading and writing

Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

Supporting and promoting books by Australian women

Lizzy's Literary Life (Volume One)

Celebrating the pleasures of a 21st century bookworm

The Australian Legend

Australian Literature. The Independent Woman. The Lone Hand

Messenger's Booker (and more)

Australian poetry interviews, fiction I'm reading right now, with a dash of experimental writing thrown in

A Bag Full Of Stories

A Blog about Books and All Their Friends

By Hook Or By Book

Book Reviews, News, and Other Stuff

madame bibi lophile recommends

Reading: it's personal

The Untranslated

A blog about literature not yet available in English

Intermittencies of the Mind

Tales of Toxic Masculinity

Reading Matters

Book reviews of mainly modern & contemporary fiction


words, images and musings on life, literature and creative self expression


Book reviews by someone who loves books ...

Dolce Bellezza

~for the love of literature

Cleopatra Loves Books

One reader's view

light up my mind

Diffuser * Partager * Remettre en cause * Progresser * Grandir

South of Paris books

Reviews of books read in French,English or even German

1streading's Blog

Just another weblog

Tredynas Days

A Literary Blog by Simon Lavery

Ripple Effects

Serenity is golden... But sometimes a few ripples are needed as proof of life.

Ms. Wordopolis Reads

Eclectic reader fond of crime novels

Time's Flow Stemmed

Wild reading . . .

A Little Blog of Books

Book reviews and other literary-related musings

Lectures épicuriennes

Tony's Reading List

Too lazy to be a writer - Too egotistical to be quiet

Whispering Gums

Books, reading and more ... with an Australian focus ... written on Ngunnawal Country


Thinking, writing, thinking about writing...

%d bloggers like this: