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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

100 Strokes of the Brush
Before Bed

Melissa P.

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed

Title: 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed
Author: Melissa P.
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 166 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed - US
One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed - UK
100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed - Canada
100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed - India
100 coups de brosse avant d'aller dormir - France
Mit geschlossenen Augen - Deutschland
Cento colpi di spazzola prima di andare a dormire - Italia
  • Italian title: 100 colpi di spazzola prima di andare a dormire
  • Translated by Lawrence Venuti
  • Published under the pseudo-pseudonym, Melissa P., the author's full name is Melissa Panarello
  • 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed was made into a film, Melissa P., in 2005, directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring María Valverde in the title role

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Our Assessment:

D : some decent writing, but largely pointless and depressing and ultimately ridiculous

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 13/11/2004 Penny Hueston
Daily Telegraph . 24/8/2004 Jane Shilling
Entertainment Weekly D+ 29/10/2004 Jennifer Reese
The Guardian . 1/10/2004 Alfred Hickling
The NY Times Book Rev. . 7/11/2004 Lenora Todaro
The Observer . 10/7/2005 Catherine Humble
Sunday Telegraph . 22/8/2004 Helen Brown

  From the Reviews:
  • "One Hundred Strokes often reads like an R-rated version of Mills and Boon. If this isn't a publisher's schoolyard parody of the genre, it's just a young European girl turning her Latin and Greek-based education into a document of misplaced passion." - Penny Hueston, The Age

  • "On she slogs in pursuit of true love, through a sexual awakening that might seem a trifle schematic, if only it weren't all entirely true. (...) It would be surprising if a teenage diary were not rather callow and unformed in style, and perhaps it is the English translation, by Lawrence Venuti, that is responsible for the clunking genital euphemisms ("my fireplace", "his lance") to which Melissa is unluckily devoted." - Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

  • "Melissa drifts passively from one sordid sexual encounter to the next, offering scant analysis of her behavior but plenty of salacious, disturbing detail. The author needed a psychiatrist, not a publisher." - Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Not, as the cover would have it, "the Story of O for our times" so much as the Story of Oh Dear." - Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

  • "The peek into Melissa's liaisons holds an interest more prurient than literary. While the book has immediacy, its lack of insight -- something one hopes for in the whispered intimacy of a diary -- makes it predictable and even tiresome." - Lenora Todaro, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The novel makes a rather sophisticated commentary on desire, showing it as stemming from a lack in the self which it ceaselessly attempts to heal." - Catherine Humble, The Observer

  • "One thing that can be said for it is that it does read very convincingly as the work of a precocious teenager. It's seething with reckless confidence, isolated angst and portentous convictions of the romanticised self. (...) Most of her tale made me simply sad at her very normal loneliness and self-hatred, and angry at those who are complicit in making her feel cheap and dirty in what I hope are abnormal situations for a young teenager to inhabit." - Helen Brown, Sunday Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed may well be a fictionalised memoir. The narrator is a Melissa, the book presented as her diary between 6 July 2000 (when she -- like the author -- was just fourteen) and 12 August 2002. Regardless of whether it is taken for fact or fiction, it's a depressing tale of a confused and self-destructive girl who looks for an outlet in sex. Her relentlessly bleak (mis)adventures almost make you wish she'd turn to drugs instead; indeed, she resembles a junkie, finding pleasure in the occasional moment, but reduced to the most sordid behaviour to obtain it. Yes, there's a fair amount of sex-description in this book, and some verges on the erotic -- but the circumstances and the participants are such a horrible lot that it almost puts you off sex entirely.
       Melissa barely mentions any friends, and certainly none she can really talk to, and her parents are clueless and uninterested. That leaves only her diary, in which she recounts her woes and sexual encounters (the two being closely related). "Now, Diary, I do know I desire her", is the sort of thing she writes -- because there's nobody she is either willing or able to say these things to, and nobody cares, generally not even the objects of her interest (and, alas, certainly not the reader).
       So it begins when she's fourteen, growing into womanhood and ready for some action. The first guy she throws herself at is typical of the princes she is attracted to, consenting only to do her after he sets down the ground rules:

He said he would do it with me only if nothing came of it, if there'd be nothing between us but sex, which we'd seek out only when we had the desire for it.
       What Melissa wants, of course, is everything but sex -- love, mainly, but also that human contact and respect and mutual affection. But instead of telling the bum that he can go fuck himself -- rather than her -- she decides maybe this is a good idea. Unfortunately, there's too little here to make believable her claim that she's a besotted little girl who is certain that romance might blossom in such a relationship. It comes as no surprise that sex isn't all it's cracked up to be either:
Feeling him inside me didn't provoke the frenzy I had expected. On the contrary, his sex just gave me an annoying, burning sensation, but I felt obliged to stay glued to him like that.
       Well, at least here she calls it his "sex", rather than his "lance", as she does elsewhere .....
       Her choice in men and her quest for love don't get much better. She certainly doesn't learn from her mistakes:
     More searches. They won't stop till I've found what I want. But I really don't know what I want. Keep on searching, Melissa, forever.
     I entered a chat room called "Perverse Sex," using the nickname "whore."
       In fairly quick succession we get all the permutations (one can almost imagine the checklist in her head): oral and regular sex, group sex, man-on-man (a bit harder to get Melissa involved in, but she manages), woman-on-woman, sado-masochistic and prop-sex fun, as well as one man who wants to install her in an apartment as his mistress and a tutor thrilled to act out his Lolita-fantasies. Melissa remains little more than an object for the guys (and occasional girl) who she spends time with -- generally just a convenient orifice, occasionally a dress-up doll to play with, or a dominatrix to be obeyed. There's nothing remotely human or romantic to almost all these encounters: even the ones that express any affection for her are merely living out a fantasy, with Melissa an interchangeable part in it. She is basically a teenage whore who is getting screwed but not getting paid.
       A big part of the problem with the book is that Melissa is so completely self-absorbed. One assumes that the main reason she can't find a man is because she'd be jealous of someone else loving her (and having as high an opinion of herself) as much as she does. Indeed, the first sexual act described in the book, in which she pleasures herself, is by the far the happiest (as Woody Allen understood long ago):
Often, with my image reflected in the mirror, I slip my finger inside, and as I look into my eyes, I'm filled with a feeling of love and admiration for myself. The pleasure of observing myself is so intense and powerful that it immediately turns physical, starting with a twitch and ending with an unusual warmth and a shudder, which lasts a few moments.
       Readers, likely to be less admiring, will shudder for entirely different reasons.
       Self-delusion continues even once others are helping her to orgasmic heights (or pits, as it often seems here) -- and she has trouble getting away from the image in the mirror. Almost a hundred pages into the book she still gazes longingly at the only things she loves, her own reflection:
I slipped my hands under the dress and slid down my panties. I smiled, whispered, "Now you're perfect," and blew myself a kiss.
       One could almost feel sorry for her -- but that's another of the book's failings: one really can't.
       One way for the guys to get in her good graces (or into her panties -- or the vicinity where they would be if she was wearing any) is to tell her what she wants to hear -- words that even she should be able to recognise as completely false and baseless, but which she instead laps up:
"This is why you make me lose my head: you're mature, intelligent, and you have this passion inside you that's utterly boundless."
     He's the one, Diary. He recognized it. I mean my passion.
       Yeah, right. Really: one should feel sorry for her, but at this point it's hard to hold the guffaws back, it's all so ridiculous.
       Sadly, it gets even worse. For One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed is a redemptive tale, proving true love can be found -- at least by the deserving. And slut-girl Melissa is certain she is deserving. And the man of her dreams naturally recognises what she has gone through to reach this point:
"That you're a girl -- excuse me -- a woman who has gone through certain situations to arrive at what she is, to assume an outlook and absorb it so deeply. Melissa, I've never met a woman like you. I've gone from feeling an affectionate tenderness to experiencing a mysterious, irresistible fascination."
       Unfortunately, the book has conveyed nothing of this stunning transformation, or given any plausible reasons for it.
       And true-love man is generous too, understanding that he's the lesser being here and shouldn't hold Melissa back, not even demanding she stay his forever:
"Whether we part depends on two conditions. You shouldn't feel imprisoned by me or my love, my affection, anything. You're an angel who must fly free; you should never allow me to be the sole purpose of your life. You're going to be a great woman, and now you know it."
       Yeah, now that a man has put his stamp of approval on her forehead (or more likely, somewhere a bit south of there) she knows it. Readers, of course, remain not merely unconvinced but baffled. And one can't but help and see that a nice circle has formed: yes, this guy is politer than the one who deflowered her, but the agreement is basically the same: no strings attached.

       Parts of One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed aren't badly done, and it is readable. There are occasional poignant moments -- the brief 11 September 2001 entry is a subdued success, for example -- and some of the sex-scenes are fine for those who enjoy written descriptions of the sex-act. But Melissa seems in a hurry to merely go through all the possible sexual permutations (rushing through them) to then arrive at her putatively happy, sappy ending. It's not very erotic: those who enjoy teenage sex fantasies might get small, vicarious pleasure from a few of the described encounters, but most readers will likely find this all anything but arousing.
       One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed is a bad book, with no redeeming qualities (except perhaps as fair warning that Italian men are not people any woman could possibly want to be romantically or sexually involved with). One hopes it is an only slightly fictionalised true-life story: the idea that someone could imagine such a ridiculous and terrible story is even more depressing than the thought that someone actually lived it.

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100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed: Reviews: Melissa P. - the film: Other books by 'Melissa P.' under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Melissa P. is the name under which Italian teenager Melissa Panarello published her first book. She was born in 1985.

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© 2004-2021 the complete review

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