The Solitude of Prime Numbers quotes

‘He noticed that they had the same way of gripping objects, framing them with their fingers tensed, in contact with surfaces but not really resting on them, as if they feared deforming what they held in their hands.’ [102]


‘The marked contrast between Alice’s light-coloured hair, which framed the excessively pale skin of her face, and Mattia’s dark hair, tousled forwards to hide his black eyes, was erased by the slender arc that linked them. There was shared space between their bodies, the confines of which were not well delineated, from which nothing seemed to be missing and in which the air seemed motionless, undisturbed. Alice walked a step ahead of him and Mattia’s slight drag balanced its cadence, erasing the imperfections of her faulty leg. His scars were hidden and safe in her hand.’ [120]


Prime numbers are divisible only by one and by themselves. They stand in their place in the infinite series of natural numbers, squashed in between two others, like all other numbers, but a step further on than the rest. They are suspicious and solitary, which is why Mattia thought they were wonderful. Sometimes he thought that they had ended up in that sequence by mistake, that they’d been trapped like pearls on a necklace. At other times he suspected that they too would rather have been like all the others, just ordinary numbers, but for some reason they weren’t capable of it. The second thought struck him mostly at night, in the chaotic interweaving of images that comes before sleep, when the mind is too weak to tell itself lies. In his first year, Mattia had studied the fact that among the prime numbers there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes: they are pairs of prime numbers that are close to one another, almost neighbours, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from really touching.

Numbers like 11 and 13, like 17 and 19, 41 and 43. If you have the patience to go on counting, you discover that these pairs gradually become rarer. You encounter increasingly isolated primes, lost in that silent, measured space made only of numbers, and you become aware of the distressing sense that the pairs encountered up until that point were an accidental fact, that their true fate is to remain alone. Then, just when you’re about to surrender, when you no longer have any desire to go on counting, you come across another pair of twins, clutching one another tightly. Among mathematicians there is a common conviction that however far you go, there will always be more pairs, even if no one can say where, until they are discovered. Mattia thought that he and Alice were like that, two twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough really to touch one another. He had never told her that. When he imagined confessing these things to her, the thin layer of sweat on his hands evaporated completely and for a good ten minutes he was no longer capable of touching anything. [160]


What Mattia saw coming towards him was only a shadow. He instinctively closed his eyes and then felt Alice’s hot mouth on his, her tears on his cheek, or perhaps they weren’t hers, and finally the hands, so light, holding his head tightly and catching hold of all of his thoughts and imprisoning them there, in the now missing space between them. [192]


[…] ‘she had begun to notice the foreignness of the place, to suffer from the chill that dried her skin and never really left her, even in the summer. And yet she couldn’t make up her mind to leave. She depended on the place now; she had grown attached to it with the obstinacy with which people only become attached to things that hurt them.’ [287]


‘”I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” she said. “But whatever it is, I think I like it.” [317]


‘If he had moved, she would have been aware of it somehow. Because she and Mattia were united by an elastic and invisible thread, buried under a pile of trivia, a thread that could exist only between two people like themselves: two people who had acknowledged their own solitude, each within the other.’ [339]


‘[…] that parental affection resolves itself into small solicitudes, the concerns that his parents listed on the telephone every Wednesday: food, heat and cold, tiredness, sometimes money. Everything else lay as if submerged at unreachable depths, in a mass of subjects never addressed, excuses to be made and received and memories to be corrected, which would remain unchanged.’ [342]


The Solitude of Prime Numbers image


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