Alex, Stacy and I chat about the conclusion of Paolo Giordano’s The Solitude of Prime Numbers (from page 181-end), musing on isolation, happiness and love, along with what constitutes a happy ending.
Stacy: Hi ladies.
Laurie: And so the conclusion of The Solitude of Prime Numbers. Surprised?
Stacy: Honestly? Not really. I mean, by some things, yes. But the epic saga of Mattia and Alice wasn’t going to be a happy ending.
Alex: I was surprised. The whole time I was set up to believe the outcome would be A or B, but it turned out to be C. And C is the real and most challenging and most rewarding outcome there is.
Stacy: I definitely felt like the ending was hopeful, if not necessarily happy.
Alex: Yes, it was real and enlightening.
Laurie: I know you thought they would find a way to close that space between them, Alex. Alas, it was not to be. I think it was inevitable really.
Alex: There was a suck-it-up vibe to it. It seemed to put the focus on Alice as she’s the one we end on, but Mattia has his own sizzle going on.
Laurie: She was the one, ultimately, I found more troubling. And that was surprising.
Stacy: I also found her more troubling. I think because her self-harm was sustained.
Laurie: Yes, Stacy, exactly! She seemed determined to remain as she was, despite knowing better. Whereas with Mattia it seemed less controllable.
Alex: That was so heartbreaking.
Stacy: Mattia could resist cutting himself (and eventually outgrew it?), but she couldn’t stop starving herself. Not for Fabio, not for her potential children and certainly not for herself.
Alex: Yes, that’s the difference.
Laurie: It was selfish really.
Alex: Mattia is recoiling as a result of damage already done, but she is continuing to damage herself and her future.
Laurie: And she does acknowledge at one point that there is no longer anyone to blame.
Alex: Do you think it was a sign that she’s ready to move past it when she goes into her house and binges? Or was she just literally about to collapse?
Stacy: I don’t know.
Laurie: Me neither.
Stacy: I mean, that’s not quite healthy behaviour either.
Alex: I really wanted to believe there was more to that moment, but I doubt it.
Stacy: I know. Me, too. But I agree: it’s doubtful.
Alex: The way she turned on Fabio, too. That love for self-harm is so deeply ingrained, she chose her body and her emptiness over him. Funny that all she ever wanted to be was alone — alone like she was when she was lost in that snow.
Laurie: I wonder if there’s anyone who can reach her really.
Alex: I find myself asking, how did she get so messed up?
Laurie: Even Mattia — did she know it wouldn’t work and therefore delude herself into thinking it could?
Alex: Because it was ultimately a way of being alone/in control?
Laurie: Yes. And the fact that her starving herself continued was what was disturbing. I kept thinking she, of the two, would grow out of it.
Stacy: I find it interesting that he — who, arguably, had the more terrible childhood — seems better able to function in the world than she.
Alex: Exactly! Did her father being so controlling really do that to her? Was it the high-school kids? The accident? I guess a bit of everything.
Stacy: The fact that she never outgrew this need to control her body (in lieu of the rest of her life??) is totally disturbing. I was just reading about how people are affected by different things (it was in an article about the abuse at Penn State) and how you can’t ever really tell how damaged a person will be. For instance, a child might be sexually abused once and they are irrevocably changed, but another child who endures abuse might be able to move past it. And I found myself thinking of these two, and how there’s something in Alice that won’t allow her to move past the things that are hurting her.
Alex: The human mind is so complex.
Laurie: The whole nature/nurture and the effect of both. I have to say I found the thing with Mattia getting together with Nadia a bit implausible.
Stacy: Me, too!
Alex: I quite liked that characterization actually. I met people like that at university who were into the idea of being “deep,” attracted to someone who seems impenetrable.
Laurie: Yes, that I get. It’s Mattia succumbing, so to speak.
Stacy: Mattia seemed to be able to move around in the world in other ways, so this embarrassment and feeling that being with her was “unnatural” seemed kind of odd. I also see her attraction to him. I just don’t get his bumbling attitude. It doesn’t seem to match up with the rest of his life.
Alex: Now, I’m not sure how likely it is that that scenario will work out, but I think there’s a possibility. Because I think that there was something about Alice that was holding him back. Him finding out that he has these basic urges that override his thoughts was a pretty big deal, I thought. He was allowing himself to just feel for the first time.
Laurie: Maybe she’s just straightforward enough. Alice was too similar to him. Nadia’s not. And maybe that’s the solution. She’s an even number.
Alex: Absolutely!!! I really liked all the names in this book; they really seemed to accompany the characters well. Nadia seems kind of dark and witchy and a little promiscuous. And Alice seems so sweet on the surface. Mattia, too, almost like math.
Stacy: I don’t get the promiscuous vibe from Nadia, actually. She said she hasn’t “done this in a while.”
Alex: Yeah, but she’s wearing a really low-cut top.
Laurie: Not promiscuous, but she makes it clear she’s interested.
Alex: And she moves her hair to show her neck.
Laurie: And the whole hand and purse thing in the taxi. Even someone like Mattia picks up on it.
Alex: Maybe promiscuous is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. She starts out as almost a predator – straddling Mattia on the couch, etc. She’s definitely in control!!
Stacy: Whoa, I so didn’t get a predatory vibe. Assertive, yes.
Alex: Well, I felt like she was sexually confident and liberated.
Laurie: I’d say more assertive. Alice took the lead, too, but, again, she and Mattia were too similar.
Alex: Fair enough.
Stacy: But the thing with Mattia is that he, in that same bit, says it hadn’t ever happened to him. I think that’s the thing that struck me. What did you think of Mattia and his dad? I found the line about how their bodies were too similar, too adult to be close kind of heartbreaking.
Laurie: It really is heartbreaking how he holds everyone at such a distance. (I think I’d want to slap him eventually.)
Stacy: Haha; me, too! But since he’s a fictional character and not actually someone I spend time with, I find I have more patience with him.
Alex: I think in the end the descriptions of his hand came a bit on the frequent side. Alice saying she saw the new wounds, seeing the scar through the glass — it was really drummed home. He’s scarred. We get it!
Laurie: Although it was interesting that with her he can show that side of himself freely and openly. And then there was the whole circle-closed thing.
Laurie: She mentions the scar and how it’s a closed circle — the implication being that he no longer needs her (page 266 right at end).
Alex: Ah, I see. Chills!
Laurie: It’s as though everything between them has come to the natural conclusion.
Stacy: I quite liked that. I mean, I was frustrated that once again their own actions make it impossible for a real connection. But that’s exactly it — it was a natural conclusion.
Alex: They just could not do it together.
Laurie: Nope. They were always moving in parallel lines, like at the party, never coming together.
Alex: Of course, I was moved by the description of that second, and last, kiss. That was magical.
Laurie: And went on for minutes!
Alex: Like it contained all the angst and everything they’d been through.
Laurie: And was a goodbye.
Stacy: It was their whole story in one long moment. I like when books go with the right ending, even if it’s not the one my heart wants.
Alex: I felt it was a real journey of a book, and I loved being surprised by the ending.
Laurie: I did, too. Painful though it was. I only want “happy” endings when I know they will be happy beyond the ending. This wouldn’t have been, and so I was OK with it.
Stacy: Me, too.
Laurie: Well, next week, we start a new book club pick and explore the enchanting world of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (up to page 131). See you next week!
Alex: Looking forward to it!