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?