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?

1950s Classics

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

A few weeks ago J.D. Salinger sadly died. A brief discussion on twitter revealed that several of us had not read any of his books, so we decided to join together and read of his most famous work.

It is amazing how wrong preconceptions of a novel can be. For some reason I thought Catcher in the Rye was about a legal case; I’d have put my money on fraud, but wouldn’t have been surprised by murder or drug dealing. I was, however, very surprised that this wasn’t a crime novel at all, but a coming of age novel about an obnoxious teenager.

For the few of you who have as little knowledge of this book as me, it is about Holden Caulfield, a teenager who is thrown out of his school. After his expulsion Caulfield heads to New York where he meets girls, gets drunk and then gets a bit lonely.

As you can probably guess from my description I wasn’t a big fan of this book. I disliked Caulfield, but my overwhelming emotion reading this book was boredom. I just didn’t care what Caulfield got up to and considered giving up at several points. As the book was a classic, fairly short and not too difficult to read I persevered, but I’m not sure that was the right decision. I don’t feel I gained anything by reading it and wouldn’t be tempted to try any of his other books.

I had heard that several people disliked the stream of conscious writing style, but I didn’t have a problem with that. I think that I may have enjoyed this more as a teenager, but as an adult I failed to connect with Caulfied. Most of the time I flipped between wanting to slap him and wanting him to shut up so I could get on with something else!

I’m afraid that this book just wasn’t for me, but see the other read-along participants for more discussion: Book NutSteph & Tony InvestigateSerendipity and The Zen Leaf



Did you enjoy Catcher in the Rye?

Did you have any stupid preconceptions about this book?


Indignation – Philip Roth

I loved The Human Stain when I read it a few years ago, so have been wanting to read another one of his books for a while.  When I saw that his latest book had just arrived at my library I decided to take the opportunity to be the first person to borrow the copy.

Indignation is a coming of age story. It is set in the early 1950s, when the possibility of being enlisted as a soldier in the Korean War was on the mind of every teenage boy in America. The central character, Marcus, struggles to cope with an over-protective father, and so leaves the family home to study at a college away from his father’s constant gaze. Once there he encounters all the dangers and temptations he has previously been sheltered from and has to learn to cope in the adult world.

I think it was unfortunate that I read this book so soon after reading The Bell Jar and Norwegian Wood, as all three books share many common themes. Indignation was well written, but I felt it was the weakest of the three books. It seemed to be covering old territory and had nothing new to add. The emotions in Indignation were less intense than Norwegian Wood and the plot was more mundane than that of The Bell Jar.

It was a short, easy read, but this was a negative for me. It felt as though many issues were being skimmed over and the side characters lacked depth.

There were some good sections, but overall it was quite disappointing.


Have you read any Philip Roth books?

Which one is your favourite?