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2009 Books in Translation Other Prizes

The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano

 Translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside

Winner of the Premio Strega 2008, Italy’s premier literary award.

Paolo Giorgdano is the youngest author to win the Premio Strega – he was just 26 when he was awarded the prize. There has been a lot of publicity around this and so I was keen to see how he managed such a remarkable achievement.

The title and the five literary awards this book has won led me to think I’d find a complex literary novel with a mathematical element, so was very surprised to discover that The Solitude of Prime Numbers is actually a light, coming-of-age story with elements more associated with a thriller.

The book centres on two children – one wracked with guilt after abandoning his sister, the other suffering from anorexia. They form a bond with one another, but this relationship is strained as they progress through their teenage years.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers was a real page-turner and I read it in a single sitting. The plot was fast paced and well structured, but I was surprised that this book was so highly acclaimed – it was an enjoyable read, but it lacked the depth I expected from a multiple award winner. The writing was simple, but precise and there were many sections where his talent shone through, but at the end of the book I was left with a “is this it?” feeling.

A small section compared the two children to prime numbers, but this felt out of place compared to the rest of the book. I’m not sure why a simple piece of mathematics has amazed so many people – perhaps it is that scientist in me coming through again, but I thought it was just a bit cheesy.

2760889966649. He put the lid back on the pen and set it down next to the paper. Twothousandsevenhundredandsixtybillioneighthundred andeightyninemillionninehundredandsisxtysixthousandsixhundredandfortynine, he read out loud. Then again, under his breath, as if to appropriate that toungue-twister to himself. He decided that number would be his. He was sure that no one else in the world, no one else in the whole history of the world, had ever stopped to consider that number. Probably, until then, no one had ever written it down on a piece of paper, let alone spoken it out loud.

I thought it was appropriate to review this book after my post on author age yesterday as this is another example of a book where a younger author has failed to impress me.

Overall, I thought it was a reasonably enjoyable light thriller, but it is nothing special.

This is by no means a perfect novel, but it’s an extraordinarily human one. Reading Matters 

….a phenomenal read. Rob Around Books

…a beautiful story which shows just how a traumatic childhood can scar us for life. Bibliophile by the Sea

Have you read The Solitude of Prime Numbers ?

Were you surprised by the contents of the book?

39 replies on “The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano”

Fascinating reading your review and Verity’s comment. This is a book I’ve had my eye on, and the title and concept promise a lot in the way of depth that it sounds like the book doesn’t actually deliver on.

Pah, nothing special!?! That’ll be you off my Xmas card list now Jackie :) Giordano is a phenomenal new talent (and Mrs. Rob thinks he’s a bit dishy too *rolls eyes*)
Warmest
Rob

As you know, Tony reviewed this one for BookPage and he was somewhat disappointed by it as well. He found it overly depressing and felt there were some things that didn’t add up. I was interested in reading it initially, but now I think there are probably other books I’d like to focus on instead.

Steph, I didn’t find it depressing (but then I was reading The Kindly Ones at the same time!) It is a very quick read if you want to find out what its like, but I agree – there are a lot of better books out there!

Very interesting that you reviewed this book today. I am about half way through this and I keep thinking that it must be a YA book. It just doesn’t read like Adult fiction to me. Nice, light, easy read, with missing pieces here and there that would have made the story much better.

Rebecca, It does read like a YA book doesn’t it? That is why I thought it was interesting to put the review up the day after my age post. It is good to know that you share my thoughts on this one.

Tricia, Thank you for the kind words! I’m afraid there are many more wonderful books in my TBR pile so you’ll never keep up, but then neither will I – my TBR pile is in real danger of collapse!

Stujallen, If Rob says something is a phenomenon then you do have to pay attention! Perhaps you should wait to try his second book, which I’m sure will be fantastic!

J.T. It isn’t really a thriller. It is supposed to be a piece of literary fiction, but has a really fast pace and is quite light, so I think it has more in common with a thriller than it should.

I was wondering if you were going to mention the age of the author. I wouldn’t have guessed this was the topic of the book based on the title.

And if you want some incidental math problems, I like the one used in “The Girl Who Played with Fire.”

I was thinking about adding this to my wish list last week when I discovered it, but now, after having read your review, I don’t want to read it anymore. I thought this would be a great read, but ‘light read’ is not what I expected. Thanks for your honest review, as always!

[…] The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano.   This book has been on my radar for a while now. Winner of the 2008 Strega Prize and a work in translation, my interest is certainly piqued. It seems to split the crowd between those who, like Rob of robaroundbooks, think it is amazing and those, like Jackie of Farm Lane Books, who think it is simply okay. Check out Rob’s thoughts and Jackie’s reviews. […]

[…] Farm Lane Books: The Solitude of Prime Numbers was a real page-turner and I read it in a single sitting. The plot was fast paced and well structured, but I was surprised that this book was so highly acclaimed – it was an enjoyable read, but it lacked the depth I expected from a multiple award winner. The writing was simple, but precise and there were many sections where his talent shone through, but at the end of the book I was left with a “is this it?” feeling… Overall, I thought it was a reasonably enjoyable light thriller, but it is nothing special. […]

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