Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The weight of consequences was always there

I'm a bit behind on reviews because of the whole recently buying a home thingy and also general laziness. So please forgive me if I mess up some of the details cos at this point it feels like a million years ago when I finish this book.

I can't remember who recommended it, but someone mentioned that The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano was a good literary book for typically non-literary readers. Since the new year I've felt like I've been in a reading slump (and judging by a number of posts I've seen, others are feeling the same way) so I was looking for something "literary light" to pull me in. And then I saw a copy of the book on sale at the Booksmith, so I had to pick up it. Obviously.

It's an odd story. There are two primary narrators: Alice and Mattia. We catch up with them at various points in their lives, before they meet, once they've become close, after they've grown apart and then when they're brought back together again. They're both damaged in their own ways and find something in each other that's missing from every other relationship they have. As Giordano describes
"Mattia had learned that, among prime numbers, there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes: pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching." (111)
One major problem I have with this book is I never feel like I get to know the characters. Even though we're seeing Alice's and Mattia's thoughts I never understood them anymore than the other characters did. No matter how much time you spend with them, you still never know them. At one point I thought Alice was acting out of character, against what Giordano had oringially set up*. But the more I tried to think "how would Alice have acted" I realized I have no idea. This could be entirely within how she would behave. Of course by this point I was about 75% through the book, so I'd like to think by now I have an idea what the characters are about. This was especially evident with Alice's chapters. You'd read something from her point of view and she was sullen and quiet and afraid. Then you see her in a Mattia chapter and she'd be loud and boisterous and bossy. And it isn't just be because Mattia viewed her this way in comparison to his own behavior (silent, morose). The few chapters from a secondary character would have Alice behaving the same way. It was almost like a different character.

That said, it was still a book that sucked me in, which was especially welcome when on public transportation. The back of the book called it "a stunning meditation on loneliness, love and what it means to be human." I agree with the loneliness. It does this beautifully (and heart-breakingly well). I will concede to love and what it means to be human, but within the confines of loneliness.

One thing I'm curious about (and 6 seconds of Googling didn't answer) is if this book was originally written in English or not. There's no translator listed anywhere, yet it seems the book was originally written in Italian. Wikipedia lists the original title as "La solitudine dei numeri primi". So if someone knows what the deal is (maybe Giordano did his own translation?) please share.

*I have no problem assuming it's the author who made a mistake with how their character reacted instead of thinking I'm wrong. It's a special level of hubris I've cultivated.

Title quote from page 222

Giordano, Paolo. The Solitude of Prime Numbers. Penguin, 2008.