Her next book, in its final stages, though she may not like to admit it, will seek to put to rest the criticisms that her book has aroused, being a work of ‘pure’ fiction. “This second book is based on immaginative experience, so it’s not autobiographical, at least not in the physical sense – she continues, with an obvious enthusiasm – It’s a very dark, claustrophobic love story, where the protagonist lives off obsessions, convinced that she sees phantoms. She talks with insects, believing that they’re dark hearted women, ready to carry off her boyfriend”. Adding a note of intrigue, she adds, “the protagonist’s name is Melissa, and the book is in the form of a letter to her mother”.
In One Hundred Strokes of the Brush before Bed, Melissa becomes a sexual plaything for a number of men, being passed around (literally in one disturbing scene) from one to the other for their gratification. There are different layers at work in the book, and different questions raised in relation to sex and identity – for example, to what extent is the degradation of her body a degradation of her identity. It paints a complex picture of sexual politics and sexual identity. When asked if she would consider herself a feminist, she responds “No, in fact I’m a pure maschilista, a shining knight, a defender of the masculine world that’s mistreated and misunderstood, and at the same time envied by those women that don’t have any real conception of the word ‘liberty’”. Panarello often comes across like a young Johnny Rotten of the literary world – intelligent and thoughtful, but also ready to provoke on cue, given the slightest chance.
She’s guarded about her influences: “I don’t have literary models. A book must open your horizons, not aid or support you – she says – I like a book for what it can give me in emotional terms, not in ‘technical’ terms”.
At the first opportunity she got, after writing One Hundred Strokes of the Brush before Bed, Melissa left the small Sicilian town of Aci Castello, moving to Rome, where she is now based. Part of the tone of the first book is created by the very fact that it’s set in a small town, where gossip moves fast, and labels get applied quickly. To what extent did her upbringing in Sicily influence the book, or to put it another way, could she have written it had she grown up in Rome or Milan? “Maybe, maybe not. I don’t really know – she says ambivalently – Sicily definitely had its influence, both
positive and negative. It’s a land of extremes where the middle ground doesn’t exist, and all that has influenced both me and my writing”. The reaction to her book in Sicily has been particularly aggressive. “Sicily gives you lots, but it takes back double from that which it gave you”.
The book is not only a bestseller, sold in many different languages, but is also now being turned into a film. Perhaps more than usual one wonders how faithful to the original book the film will be? “I’m not involved in any way with the making of the film – apart from the sale of the rights, one imagines – because the project itself doesn’t convince me, and I don’t like it”. While it has to be admitted that the book is cinematic in style or “practically a screenplay” according to Panarello, it seems strangely naïve when the Sicilian writer complains: “The production crew have gotten it into their heads to re-write it, and in so doing they’re taking away from the atmosphere that characterises the book, modifying the story radically”. It illustrates well one of the paradoxes raised uncomfortably by the book, and its atmosphere and story. If the film makers were to shoot it as is, it would receive a certificate that would ban people the age of the protagonist from seeing the film.
Whether the book falls into the category of literary or merely functional pornography we’ll leave up to the judgement of the Three Monkey’s reviewers. What is beyond question though is that Melissa P’s debut has been successful beyond comparison, and has placed a pressure on her follow up. There will be many ready to say that the book has succeeded simply because of scandal, and the author’s age. There’s enough evidence to suggest that Panarello will prove them wrong, and take her place as one of Italy’s bright new literary talents. Moral outrage after all has rarely been a credible yardstick against which to measure works of art, be they literature, or music. This writer, for one, looks forward to Melissa Panarello’s next book.
100 Strokes of the Brush before Bed is published in the U.K by Serpent’s Tail Publishing
Buy One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before… from Amazon.co.uk