The story goes that the author, Melissa P., born in the small Sicilian town of Acicastello near Catania began keeping a journal at the age of 16 and that she carelessly left the manuscript lying around the house only to have her horrified parents discover their daughter’s secret life within its pages. This manuscript was eventually turned into the short, autobiographical novel One Hundred Strokes of The Brush Before Bed, a chronicle of the sexual awakening of a young Sicilian schoolgirl which takes place over the course of the next two years. The book causes a sensation in Italy and across Europe as a whole due to its graphic sexuality and has been translated in over 25 countries.
Essentially a book of erotica, extremely well written which at times recalls one of the masters of erotic fiction Anais Nin. We follow 16 year old Melissa through her experiences, each one explicitly detailed - from encounters with her peers, to tutors, and to others - mostly older men - who she meets online and in chat rooms. The prose captures a lot of the “teenage angst” one would expect from a 16 year old and while she experiments and tries to understand these new feelings awakening within her, she still seeks “love” but finding only uncaring men, men who are only interested in using her for their own pleasure, married men looking for an experience with a younger woman, and quite a number of them who have no compunction with sleeping with and under age girl. It soon becomes apparent that this tale reveals more about the sexual psychology of men then it does the protagonist who isn’t so “innocent” herself as she takes on this journey of exploration.
As to whether or not the premise behind this book is true or whether it is a clever marketing gimmick, I can’t say for sure. Is it memoir or is it fiction? My guess is that it’s probably a little of both. Either way, it’s is extremely well written and Melissa P. is a fine prose stylist. My only real criticism of the novel is its use of metaphors which have become a staple in erotic fiction (Henry Miller she is not) which to me sometimes lessens the power of the stories she tells (was that her choice or the editors?). However it does not at all take away from the sometimes disturbing aspects of this finely written novel. I think it will take its place within the tradition of other literary erotica novels such as “Delta of Venus” and “The Story of O” and if you are an admirer of these types of books, then this is most definitely one for you. A coming-of-age/loss-of-innocence tale that does offer much more than its highly sexualized passages. Definitely worth a read, mainly for her power as a writer.