Forethoughts: The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

[Note: My review of The Solitude of Prime Numbers novel has now been posted]

Another novel that I’m off and running with this week is The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano and I couldn’t be more excited about reading it. I’ve already featured the book as a Daily Bookshot a couple of days ago, and I said a few things about it then, including giving away the little teaser that I was reading this novel at this time for a particular reason. More on that at the end of these forethoughts though. First a bit of info on the book.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is the debut novel of Paolo Giordano and although it’s not released in English translation until June 4th (UK), it’s a novel that’s already enjoyed significant acclaim. Having been translated into over 30 languages, and having attained international bestseller status, Giordano, as its youngest ever winner at 26, also took away the prestigious Premio Strega Award (Italy’s top literary award whose former winners include Primo Levi, Umberto Eco and my current favourite Italian author Niccolò Ammaniti), in 2008 for this novel.

Talking of Niccolò Ammaniti (which I seem to do a lot), The Solitude of Prime Numbers is being compared quite strongly by a number of people to the work of Ammaniti, and while I don’t think it’s particularly fair to compare one author’s work with that of another, I consider any notion of this novel being on the same wavelength as Ammaniti, as incredibly exciting.

So what is The Solitude of Prime Numbers actually about then? As always let’s start with the cover blurb (which does contain minor spoilers):

A prime number is a lonely thing: it can be divided only by itself, or by one; it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia are also alone, each haunted by childhood trauma. Alice bears the scars of a terrible skiing accident that nearly killed her, and Mattia lives with a guilty secret that lies at the heart of his disabled twin sister’s disappearance. When they meet as teenagers, they each recognize in the other a kindred, damaged spirit.

As they grow into adulthood their destinies seem irrevocably intertwined. But when the gifted Mattia wins a mathematics posting that takes him thousands of miles away, it seems that love, or its loss, might just be a game of numbers after all; until a chance sighting by Alice of a woman who could be Mattia’s sister forces a lifetime of hidden emotion to the surface.

A stunning meditation on aloneness, love and the weight of childhood experience, The Solitude of Prime Numbers asks, can we ever be whole when we’re in love with another? And how much of ourselves do we give away?

Now before I comment on this synopsis I have a small confession to make. I normally write up my forethoughts before I open the first page of a book, but as I’ve been busy I’m writing this having already read the first six chapters. This only amounts to sixty seven pages which is not a lot, but it’s enough for me to pull out a single word from the blurb which so succinctly and so perfectly sums up my reading experience so far. That word is ‘aloneness’. Six chapters down and there’s an almost unbearable sense of aloneness and solitude coming from the story (rather apt then that the word ‘solitude’ is in the title), and in this respect Giordano is already showing himself to be something of a masterful writer. Too soon to declare that overall but a promising start.

As for the rest of the synopsis, well it’s a nice bit of ‘bait’ isn’t it? I love any story where characters are battling inner demons and hidden secrets, and from my experience it seems Italian writers have a flair for writing about such things (which makes it sound as though I’m suggesting Italian writers have plenty of experience in battling such things themselves :o)).

A quick comment on the cover, and the theme of ‘aloneness’ extends beautifully to this too. Dark and sombre in palette, a young girl sits dejected and alone on a bench, facing an expansive pond – heightening a sense of impending doom. The subtle appearance of geometric lines in two of the corners tie in with the mathematical element of the story, and the title. Perfectly composed. Wholly relevant. I love it!

So all in all this looks like being an absolute cracker of a read and I’m really excited about the literary journey that lies ahead. I so want this to read like an Ammaniti, but I also want it to be unique and wholly Giordano in nature, which I’m sure it’s going to be.

Oh and there’s one final thing to reveal before I close isn’t there? Why exactly I’m reading The Solitude of Prime Numbers at precisely this time? We’ll aside from it being close to its UK launch date (which is always a good reason for reading a review title :o)) there’s a rather exciting online event taking place. That event is similar to the one I participated in, in January, and it’s a live Q&A session with the author on the World Literature Forum. The final date for this session has still to be announced, but I’m guessing it will be sometime soon. Keep your eye on this thread for updated details, and if you send a nice message to Samantha at Transworld (you’ll have to join the World Literature Forum in order to message Sam – free and worth it), I’m sure you’ll also be able to receive your own FREE copy of The Solitude of Prime Numbers (although it may only be restricted to European countries). Be quick though.

Anyway, I’ll be back in a few days to let you know how I got on with this novel.

Book Details
Publisher: Doubleday (UK)
Published: 04 June 2009 (UK)
Format: Hardback
Pages: 352 pages
ISBN: 0385616244


A note about Forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise, in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.

Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may be, but when they’re combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, what one has is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some use to other readers.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. I think it’s a bad sign when I want to read this book because it mentions prime numbers in the title… Oh well.

  2. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

    I don’t think it’s a bad sign Bibliobio. You’re just showing that you have a refined taste. That said don’t let anything about ‘prime numbers’ put you off this reading this. It’s a bit special!

  3.’s one of the best books i ever read:)
    when it’s not the predictable ending it’s make the story even better!

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Haha…it certainly didn’t go the way that one may have expected Talia! I’m glad that you enjoyed it as much (perhaps even more) then I did.