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3.9 out of 5 stars30
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 17 June 2015
I loved this book, it's melancholy overtones cleverly disguise the burning undertones of the central characters desire for each other. The writing weaves you into a dark and solitary world inhabited by two people who really are the same yet see themselves as different. There's been a mixted reaction to this book with reviews that rave and others that rant, but I can see how it isn't a book that will be enjoyed by everyone, or at least, understood by many who choose to read it. In short, it's a book that if you engage with it on the right level it will break your heart.
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on 21 November 2014
What a depressing read. Two deeply troubled people drifting along, no storyline, no development. Asperger's/autism may be a fashionable novel theme at the moment, but this does not enlighten in any way.
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on 29 March 2010
Prime numbers just are. They cannot be broken down and don't belong to the cosy families of multiples or the exotic splendor of square numbers. They stand alone. Giordano points out in this novel that prime numbers frequently exist close to each other- alongside though never having any real relationship to each other except for their non-conformity and difference to every other number.

This novel describes two characters who are like prime numbers. They are frozen in time partly due to terrible things that have happened them and partly due to their own unique nature. Alice sustained a terrible fracture of her leg and since then has limped in a solitary fashion. Mattia lost his younger sister when he left her alone in the park rather than bring her to a birthday party where he would be teased about her learning difficulties and her behavioural problems. Their adolescence is even more painful than most due to the jagged raw scars that stretch back to the days their lives were changed forever. Yet in their difference they were drawn to each other and draw others that were equally hurt or different for other reasons to their side. This story simply follows the tortured path of how they developed into adults.

This book is short. It can be easily read in a couple of nights. Yet it is magnificently profound and will remain with you for a long time. It is mature, sensitive and the prose is succinct and easy to read despite the fact that it has clearly been translated with all the difficulties that translation can entail. The aftertaste from the novel may not be immediately satisfying but it is memorable and will cause you to ponder.
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on 6 February 2010
This is a very accomplished book and deserves all its success. It is a coming-of-age novel about two lonely children who had traumatic incidents in their childhoods. Alice had a skiing accident, broke her leg and is forever labelled a cripple because of her limp. Mattia, meanwhile, abandoned his twin sister in a park; because she was mentally retarded, he found her an embarrassing encumbrance. She was never seen again. Giordano traces the next 24 years of their lives: their dislocation from society, their discomfort with their overbearing or overly solicitous parents, their distance from their schoolfriends and even from each other. The title comes from Mattia's notion (he's a maths buff) that Alice and he are "twin primes", like 11 and 13, or 17 and 19, lonely individuals that are forever linked but forever separated.

Part of the interest of the book comes from its minimalism. Scenes, dialogue and descriptions are brief, almost terse. It would have been easy to fall into melodrama and produce a happy resolution, but Giordano remains as icy as his characters, offering only misunderstandings and missed opportunities until the bitter end.

I had the fortune to be able to read the book in the original language and appreaciate all the strengh of the words. The description of everyday scenes and the feelings portrait make for a sad, but strangely beautiful, read. Very poignant
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on 10 November 2012
A doctor of theoretical physics writes a novel about a mathematical genius whose mother doesn't love him and who doesn't like anybody much himself. Impressed that a physicist is capable of writing a novel that doesn`t involve aliens or robot sex scenes, the Italian publishing industry showers him with praise, gives him a Strega prize and has his novel translated into lord-knows-how-many languages.
There's only one problem; the novel is hopelessly self-indulgent and the characters no more than psychological problems on legs. Though everyone in the book is dreadfully lonely and unhappy, the main characters have more fashionable mental problems(self mutilation and anorexia), which apparently creates a special bond between them that none of the other unhappy characters has.
Will our heroes finally get it on and grow into anything more than one=dimensional bores? Well, as the blurb on the back of the book explains, they are like solitary prime numbers, which can be close but never touch, so that's the ending revealed for you before you open the book.
Bad publishing industry! Bad! Loads of scientists are capable of writing a clear, concise sentence. That is no guarantee of a decent novel and definitely no reason to overrate an author.
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on 6 July 2009
This book is a joy to read. Tightly composed, brief chapters crisply and evocatively sketch out the tale of two damaged children finding their way in life. Paolo Giordano, just 25 at the time of the books publication, must be considered a hugely talented and promising writer with a bright future, but there isn't enough in this solid debut to get overly excited about.

The book starts exceptionally strongly with the events that would shape the lives of the two main characters. These short, precise scenes are haunting, powerful and handled with expertise by the author. Michela, the vividly evoked, damaged twin sister, is written with breathtaking empathy in these early, tragic chapters. Sadly, after around 100 pages we are away from the seminal events of childhood and on a long detour into the mundane adolescences of an anorexic and a self-harmer. To his credit Giordano handles these well worn characters with maturity and makes them rounded and believable, but much of what happens in the middle of the book seems irrelevant and is often just boring. It is only when the spectre of Michela arrives once more towards the end that the book again becomes the moving, compelling work it threatens to be in the first couple of chapters. Credit must also go to the author for avoiding the terrible, predictable ending which at one point towards the end of the book seems likely.

The writing is beautiful and there is enough evidence of here of a talent in the making, it is just a shame that there is not more meat in a patchy and sometimes unengaging middle section. There is probably enough here to satisfy many - it is hugely readable and satisfyingly brief, and the book will find wide readership. I won't be going overboard with praise for Giordano just yet, but I'll be looking out for his next work.
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on 19 September 2010
I read this book over a couple of afternoons so it is quite a quick and easy read. At times I enjoyed the book, although the overall feeling I had was one of disappointment. The characters were not particularly endearing and I found it slightly unbelievable that all of the characters in the book had such terrible lives. I would have liked the author to expand on the Michaela storyline at the time she disappeared. I did think that the idea of Mattia and Alice being like prime numbers was quite clever. Not sure if I would read anything by the same author again.
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This novel starts and ends with prime numbers, beginning with Chapter 1 and ending with Chapter 47. Mattia, a mathematician, considers himself to be a prime number in the (prime) third section of the novel entitled "In and Out of the Water": "alone but not close enough to really touch" -- another human being.

And Mattia views Alice, another protagonist in this story, as the same (though this reader wasn't convinced. Mattia is the only character who lives without a significant other in his life; Alice, at least, is married for three years).

Mattia calls himself and Alice as well "twin primes." Twin primes are mathematically rare, and this rarity metaphorically makes for an unusual pair of protagonists who both feel they are truly outsiders in the world. But true to the nature of prime numbers, the author, a bel ragazzo physicist, keeps his episodic plot structure consistent with this universal law of (rare and odd) primes.

The novel, therefore, holds no surprises on that account in regard to what happens to his primary pair of protagonists, characters who also are, again like prime numbers, deeply and divided in themselves (if not "into" themselves) throughout most of the novel.

Still, if human beings can be prime numbers, or are doomed to be, then there can be a great stream of people who are natural numbers as well, that is, people who happen or appear between the primes, people who can and do touch another human being, natural numbers, so to speak. Such natural numbers are people who are not divided in themselves and who can connect with others.

While Mattia and Alice are divided creatures, misread and misunderstood in their early childhoods by parents who didn't read their emotional signs as to who they were and what they were feeling as young children such that, consequently, their parents maligned them and harmed them, and while Mattia and Alice, each in his or her turn, have become solitary primes or seeming to be so, that is, social outsiders (or, maybe social robots), even as they grow into young adults, they are nonetheless surrounded by "natural" people, many of whom actually do love them and want to care for them.

The story reveals that these "natural people" are unable to read Mattia's and Alice's signs as well and, consequently, these have to go their separate ways as well -- characters like Fabio (Alice's husband), Denis (a gay friend), and Nadia (Mattia's one-time lover), all of whom are minor characters but who are nonetheless well-depicted and appealing in their own right.

While the entire novel seems poetically devoted to the mathematical laws and consequences of prime numbers per se, in more humanistic and psychological terms, the author, through his portrayal of his two main characters, tends to avoid having them confront the social consequences of their actions, which seems to happen through the author's film-like quick-cut and cut-away narrative methods.

Thus, Denis, who apparently has a lot of gay sex in bathrooms, carries on without any fear of contracting AIDS at all. Alice, an apprenticed photographer on her first professional job for her boss, deliberately exposes all the film in a wedding shoot, but she never gets fired nor never gets her comeuppance. Mattia has a one-night stand or two -- and the women involved never get upset that they've been used nor do they become pregnant even though no one is prepared. At the near-end of the novel, Mattia, a novice driver, drives the car while Alice rides at his side and recklessly come close to being hit by a truck -- but they never collide with it.

These later, ensuing, frequent absences of consequences for the main characters show up as if the author wants the reader to understand that whatever consequences may now happen to Mattia or Alice in adulthood, nothing can compare to what happened to them in their childhoods -- since the consequences of their childhood wounds loom over their lives for the rest of their lives. But having these characters remain in their childhood selves, frozen, arrested in their development, even as they grow into adulthood makes their later, older behavior and choices appear infantile at worst or adolescent at best. The reader feels stuck, too, in the characters' childhoods throughout the entire novel.

What was most fascinating for this reader about Paolo Giordano's novel was the minimalist and poetic way it was written, true to the traditional omniscient, third-person point of view and thus able to get into every characters' heads intimately and quickly, yet done so lightly and with such keen discrimination that the reader feels no heavy-handed authorial tone or intruding authorial voice in the story at any time, though it never disappears.
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VINE VOICEon 28 April 2010
The characters of Mattia and Alice are very well-drawn. Mattia is a brilliant mathemetician but has quite a bit of trouble dealing with people, and although it is never stated it is fairly clear from description that he has a form of Asperger's. He has a twin sister but she also has problems, not the same as his. He finds himself having to look out for her at school and excluded from many events with his peers due to their lack of acceptance of her. Both Mattia and Alice have a traumatic event in their childhoods that shapes them for the rest of their lives and which will have a resounding effect on both of them. The aftermath of their separate traumas is dealt with superbly. They are two pyschologically and physically damaged people. The physical almost certainly a direct result of the psychological. The book starts off very strongly with the building of the characters and all the loneliness they suffer for their different reasons until fate brings them together and they become firm friends. The friendship blossoms into something much more for both of them, but Mattia finds it very hard to express his emotions let alone truly acknowledge them. Through a misunderstanding Mattia moves away and they both lead more or less separate lives. At this juncture the book seems to lose a little of its momentum. We follow the path of Mattia and Alice closely, and just as they have been shaped by trauma, they are also shaped for a long time by the collision of their two worlds when they met and became friends. I actually found the ending quite sad although Alice and Mattia ultimately become stronger and more resilient.
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on 7 July 2012
I couldn't put it down, it was gripping and amazingly well-written, although a bit upsetting. I couldn't give it five stars because there was something missing, perhaps it was lost in translation, I'm not sure. But a great book, I would definitely recommend it.
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