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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Scent of your Breath

Melissa P.

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To purchase The Scent of your Breath

Title: The Scent of your Breath
Author: Melissa P.
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 130 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Scent of your Breath - US
The Scent of your Breath - UK
The Scent of your Breath - Canada
The Scent Of Your Breath - India
Dich lieben - Deutschland
L'odore del tuo respiro - Italia
  • Italian title: L'odore del tuo respiro
  • Translated by Shaun Whiteside

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Our Assessment:

C- : self-indulgent, not much fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 20/8/2006 Susan Salter Reynolds
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/8/2006 Sheelah Kolhatkar
San Francisco Chronicle . 20/8/2006 Michelle Orange

  From the Reviews:
  • "The reader is a voyeur, not a participant. The drama, the self-mythologizing seem adolescent, until you recall the times you've seen the world through a similar fog. (...) You read her like an archeologist unearthing primitive artifacts -- primitive but still haunting." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Now its author, self-outed on her 18th birthday as Melissa Panarello, faces the unenviable task of trying to outdo that sensational performance -- which was less a novel than a concept, and less a literary achievement than a media one. The second time around she proves herself skilled at creating moments of emotional realism and drawing one into the jumbled mind of a young woman in love. But without the gimmick (Panarello is now 20) or a clearly developed narrative, that is all the reader is left with -- snapshots of a girlish fantasy of grown-up romance that proves as fleeting as a one-night stand." - Sheelah Kolhatkar, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Panarello bites off more than she can chew with this structure, as it assumes we have the narrator's experience of (and investment in) her musings, though perhaps the point, if intermittently successful, is to submerge the reader in the zero-gravity consciousness of an increasingly unhinged protagonist." - Michelle Orange, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       Melissa is back -- but she's still a teen, with maturity nowhere in sight. Still, after trying everything and the kitchen sink in 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, she more or less settled down for a while in Rome, with one guy, Thomas. Surprise, surprise: it doesn't last.
       The choppy narrative is nominally addressed to the narrator's mother, a mix of confession and reminiscence-collection, with a(n un)healthy dose of yet more sexual encounters. Somewhat mercifully, sex isn't entirely central: Melissa has other concerns, too. Mainly: is Thomas doing Viola ? (O.k., that's sex, too, but at least Melissa isn't directly involved in the action -- and hence doesn't describe it (to everyone's relief).) Though one imagines it's just an excuse to break things up; she seems entirely incapable of sustaining any sort of relationship for any extended period of time. (Yeah, there's a miscarriage, too, but she actually manages to be so unsympathetic that it's hard to feel more than a brief pang for her loss.)
       Melissa seems to have an aversion to thought -- and is positively repulsed by anything that might be considered intellectual. She just wants to feel. Thought is for dead people -- and irreconcilable with emotion. (It's apparently tough to escape from, however: even Melissa is scared of dying -- not physically, but emotionally, turned into one of these zombie-thinkers that fill the streets ....)
       Sex is almost always the answer, because it doesn't require any thought. But then what ? Melissa seems to sense that underlying problem, but sure isn't ready to tackle it.
       The Scent of your Breath does offer some entertainment value, especially regarding Melissa's ridiculous belief in her own worth and qualities. It's hard to imagine anyone more self-indulgent and absorbed:

He was extremely handsome, I was extremely beautiful.
       Of course, it helps then that: "when we made love he didn't exist" .....
       The title of the book suggests a romantic memory, but it shouldn't come as any surprise that the breath she is talking about is ... hers:
     'The scent of your breath ...' he whispered suddenly in the night, 'I love the scent of your breath.'
     I clutched his t-shirt with my fingers and closed my eyes.
     He imprisoned my breath in a glass jar, and he sniffs it every time he makes love with me.
       The Scent of your Breath is a child's book, a screwed-up (and down and all around) teen's attempt at sounding serious and trying to come to grips with things like relationships (here, specifically with her mother as well as Thomas). The book fails so miserably largely because Melissa seems incapable of understanding what other people even are: she lives in a universe inhabited solely by herself, others mere sounding (and fucking) boards that don't need to be treated like human beings because that very concept is completely beyond her.
       The painful conclusion suggests that Melissa might understand that everything isn't exactly okay -- but then, of course she claims: "Pain is the source of my life, the source of my imagination". (Ouch.) Worse yet, even after all she's been through she insists:
     Mum, everything I've lived through I want to live again. I want to make the same mistakes.
       So much for learning from experience. (It is, of course, an interesting approach -- but she can't even make that compelling.)
       Some of the scenes -- childhood memories, a few encounters -- are decent enough, but mixed together with everything else it's a cluttered little novella. Some of the pain even sounds genuine -- she certainly has issues -- , but because she is so thoroughly unsympathetic it's hard to care. (Perhaps some readers will admire her feistiness and independence, but that's about all she has going for her.)
       Shaun Whiteside's translation reads better than Lawrence Venuti's translation of 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, but that may simply be due to the fact that there are (mercifully) fewer elaborate sex scenes and so there's less talk of "lances" and the like.
       Melissa P. remains a baffling phenomenon; the truly terrifying thing is that she is barely twenty years old and could keep churning out shit like this for decades to come. (Could she ever become a writer ? If she ever finds a different subject matter (and main and only character), maybe -- but given how in love she seems to be with herself, it's hard to imagine her letting go enough to ever find out.)

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The Scent of your Breath: Reviews: 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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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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