THE BLOG
05/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Solitude of Prime Numbers : Favorable Circumstances

I wrote The Solitude of Prime Numbers at night. It was in the early months of my doctoral research at university in Turin and, among us newcomers, there was an unspoken competition to see who would be the last to leave the office. We didn't work late into the night from some need to outdo one another: rather, we wanted to prove to ourselves that this was the beginning of a purposeful journey, that we would invest ourselves completely in what we were doing. I truly believed in it. I imagined my future as a professor of physics at some prestigious institute on the west coast of the United States. But at night, unknowingly, I was crafting an escape from a scientific career through my writing.

It's amazing how certain circumstances can affect the progress of a story. I'm sure that if I had written The Solitude of Prime Numbers in the morning, Alice and Mattia -- my protagonists, whom we meet as children -- would not have been so unlucky. She would not have fallen into a ravine during a ski lesson, and he would've found his twin sister after leaving her alone in the park for a few hours. Maybe their teenage passion would have been less complicated, and their mutual attraction would have led somewhere satisfying. I am almost certain that there wouldn't have been so many clouds hovering over Turin if I, writing, had been looking out on a clear afternoon sky instead of at blinds already lowered against the darkness. Looking back on the book now, I realize that the dominant emotion in the lives of the characters is fear, my fear, because the night, as we all know, is the realm of anxiety, even for grown-ups.

And the fatigue. The weariness of those long days kept cautiousness, one of my defining traits, from always having the upper hand, and released that little bit of mischief that was hiding behind it. Among other things, fatigue forced me to work in very short chapters, so I could finish before one o'clock - the hour my eyes would literally start to close. So, by accident, the structure took on its uncommon, splintered, restless shape..

It makes you think, then, how the individual events of a day -- not even the things that make up the daily routine but the trifles, like catching a snippet of a show when you turn on the television, or the heaviness of dinner -- play a decisive role in every narrative. I wonder if, for example, the noisiness of my former neighbors (which would promptly make me hopelessly irritable) has altered the world of the novel in a way that every reader can sense. It's embarrassing!

Or not. Maybe it is this invasion of real life, this influence of the surroundings and the writing environment on the writing itself, that allows a fictional story to have substance. That synchronizes it with the breath and the rhythms of the writer. Don't many reputable scientists argue that it was a random and slightly improbable combination of favorable circumstances that made life on Earth possible?

Translated by Alessandra Lusardi

Subscribe to the Culture Shift email.
Get your weekly dose of books, film and culture.