The others were the first to notice what Alice and Mattia would understand only many years later. They walked into the room holding hands. They weren’t smiling and they were looking in opposite directions, but it was as if their bodies flowed uninterruptedly into one another, through their arms and their touching fingers.

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing the documentary film Babies. Featuring four families across the world raising their newborn children from birth to their first steps, it celebrates the creation of life itself. It is a beautiful, sweet film and left me feeling so happy afterwards.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers…not so much.

The book opens with contrasting accounts of the childhood experiences of its two main characters, Alice and Mattia. In 1983 Alice fell from a ski-lift at a resort and seriously injured her leg. Left alone in the snow, her clothes befouled by a release of her bowels, the young girl retreated into herself as she waited to be rescued. Afterwards she becomes obsessed with controlling her eating, developing anorexia. In 1984 Mattia abandoned his disabled twin sister Michela in a public park to avoid embarrassment at a schoolfriend’s birthday party. When he returned to the spot, she had vanished. Traumatised by his part in her disappearance, Mattia begins a life-long habit of self-mutilation.

School is just a series of endless humiliating encounters for them both. Alice is picked on by a gang of girls she is desperate to fit in with. Mattia unwittingly encourages another boy into becoming infatuated with him, when he openly slicing his hand in a biology class. The tragically enraptured Dennis assumes this is a product of homosexual self-loathing. As both children grow into adolescence they eventually become friends, their intimacy founded on a mutual co-dependency and sense of alienation. They also both become obsessed with different disciplines. Mattia is a gifted mathematician, the cold austerity of numbers suiting his internalised view of the world. Alice embraces photography as a means of capturing and controlling what she sees, just as she does her food.

Paolo Giordano describes the painful process of growing up that can faced by many young people. Where I part company from him is the excessive misery described here. Alice and Mattia grow into adulthood burdened by the same psychological damage that afflicted them as children. In fact adulthood here is shown to be the aftermath of the cruel vicissitudes of childhood.

After finishing this book I was left in a depressive funk for most of the afternoon. Mainly it was due to the hopelessness of these two lost souls. Where I begin to suspect this to be a work of continental misery lit, is in the faint prospect in Mattia being reunited with his missing twin in the latter half of the book. This prospect is dangled in front of the reader by Giordano and then pulled away abruptly.

Do I want to spend a day in the company of two people with no hope, no chance and forever traumatised by two singularly tragic events? No not particularly.

Intelligently written, but dark and quite depressing.

 

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