By Paolo Giordano

I am a sucker. I have admitted this failing more than once before, but in this case there is a particular series of things which sucked me…


1) The Sale Table at Powell’s: I understand the object of the sale table at Powell’s is to attract suckers such as myself. And normally I would not fall for such an obvious ploy but for the fact that one of my favorite books of all time was obtained in such sucker-attracting fashion.

2) Trade Paperback: I am vain of my bookcase and and loathe to allow a regular paperback to stray onto my shelves. By the same token I have bought books for their shape, size, heft, and rough-edged pages to my literary dismay more than once.

3) Reviews (!!!): They comprise the bulk of this sucker’s complaint; if I see words such as ” luminous” or phrases like “Elegant and fiercely intelligent.” ( all of which I like to consider myself*) I will simply be unable to resist. I should know based on my own penchant for critical hyperbole that this is unlikely ever to be the case. But, particularly when combined with attractions number 1 & 2 I am hopeless.

As you might have begun to gather, I did not find this book either luminous or elegant and fiercely intelligent. Oh, la.

Giordano begins his narrative in rather uncomfortable territory; inside the zipped up snowsuit of young Alice, who desperately needs to pee. He manages to describe her ensuing ski accident with vivid detail and compelling language, but much like the rest of the novel, this seems to be tragedy without trajectory.

Our next vignette follows Mattia; our precocious boy hero with a mentally impaired twin sister. He resents the many ways he is hobbled by her deficiencies, and in an act both utterly natural and unquestionably brutal, abandons her in such fashion that she is lost forever.

We are meant to understand that these tragedies have formed Alice and Mattia in ways that will eventually magnetize them to one another. Though their trauma has manifested itself in different ways (Alice is inexplicably anorexic because of her accident, whereas Mattia cuts himself, more understandably, in his guilt) the way in which Giordano refers to these physical scars is always vague and shrouded in a thin and mewling sort of mystery; both unmoving as an emotional ploy, and ineffective as a means of creating suspense.

They carry on a stilted and unconsummated romance for most of their teenage years but ultimately move apart as adults. Mattia accepts a professorship in Northern Europe as cliche dictates for his super genius math skills and utter lack of social accumen. Alice becomes the spoiled and indifferent spouse of a physician who seems not to notice or make mention of the fact his wife is starving herself until she refuses to provide him with progeny. When this conflict brings her marriage to an end, she flailingly reaches out to Mattia, long since absent. He, in the aftermath of an awkward and semi consummated affair, inexplicably races home to her side.

Once he arrives, the motive which prompted Alice to contact him in the first place, the supposed sighting of his long lost twin sister, no longer seems a sufficient cause to trouble him and she says nothing about why she summoned him home. Without even the thinnest (rimshot) excuse to offer for the frantic demand he arrive, Alice feebly sends him away. More, Mattia goes without question or protest.

Now, apart from my considerable conviction that human beings would never behave this way, it also begs the question; what’s the fucking point? Such a seemingly dramatic crescendo all going nowhere.

Which is pretty much how this book felt from start to finish.

So, I got suckered, by something that ultimately had the gravitational pull of my bathtub drain. Boo.



* okay, okay obviously not elegant.