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
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.
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.
on 26 May 2011
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.