Tampa by Alissa Nutting

tampaHaven’t people got their knickers in a twist over Alissa Nutting’s Tampa? I knew it would be a controversial and difficult read before I began, but this book quite took my breath away. And I’m not entirely sure it’s a good thing.

I feel I need to address the controversy separately from the book itself so I’ll leave the brouhaha til the end.

Tampa is the story of Celeste, the high-maintenance wife of a rich cop who likes pre-pubescent teenage boys. And when I say ‘like’ what I mean is that she has a pathological sexual obsession with them. She trained as an English teacher just so she would be exposed to the possibilities of a relationship with one of her charges, and she quickly picks out her victim. Jack is one of those 14 year olds who still looks like a boy. There are no hints yet of the man he might become and he lacks the maturity to resist his predatory teacher. What follows is Jack’s seduction and systematic abuse by a woman who cares for naught but her sexual satisfaction.

Nutting tells Celeste’s story in the first person forcing the reader into an uncomfortable intimacy with the story. Celeste is obsessed with sex – so long as it’s not with her husband, Ford – and the author describes her acts and fantasies in forensic detail. But far from being titillating or erotic, the sex in this book is cold and emotionless. I found myself praying that Celeste would be caught and put away where she could no longer have access to Jack and his peers, which is why the denouement of the book disappointed me so much.

I have read that Tampa has been likened to a mix of Lolita and American Psycho. Certainly, there is a certain amount of black humour in the book which may remind you of Patrick Bateman, but where the violence in American Psycho largely takes place in Bateman’s head, the atrocities in Tampa do happen to Jack. And as for Lolita, Humbert Humbert was portrayed as having some affection for Lolita. Celeste cares only for herself and her own sexual gratification.

Paedophilia is a distressing topic and Tampa is a very difficult read. As a woman, I found a female paedophile especially distressing – aren’t we supposed to be the nurturers and care-givers? Celeste’s sociopathic selfishness is the antithesis of all we, as a society, expect from women and while I normally like my expectations to be upended by a book, I’m not sure Nutting has done so in a way I enjoyed.

I’ve given a lot of thought to whether or not any topic should be out of bounds for a writer and I think that any censorship is a bad thing. What matters is how the topic is treated and while Celeste is portrayed as exactly what she is, ultimately her punishment didn’t fit her crimes and I was left wanting more.

Would I recommend Tampa to others? Yes, I think so, so long as you go in with your eyes open and are prepared to think about what you’ve read for several days afterwards.

The social media thingamybobs:

10 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    Aug 8, 2013

    Nettie – I love the candor of your review. And I agree wholeheartedly that censorship is wrong. But that said, Not all novels are well-written, nor are they books I want to read. I’ll probably give this one a miss, but not because of your well-written and thoughtful review. I think I just don’t want to face that topic in that way.

    • Nettie
      Aug 8, 2013

      I totally understand your point of view, Margot. It’s certainly not a book I’d read twice whereas I would read American Psycho and Lolita again.

  2. Margot Kinberg
    Aug 8, 2013

    Nettie – I love the candor of your review. And I agree wholeheartedly that censorship is wrong. But that said, Not all novels are well-written, nor are they books I want to read. I’ll probably give this one a miss, but not because of your well-written and thoughtful review. I think I just don’t want to face that topic in that way.

    • Nettie
      Aug 8, 2013

      I totally understand your point of view, Margot. It’s certainly not a book I’d read twice whereas I would read American Psycho and Lolita again.

  3. Viv
    Aug 8, 2013

    Interesting review.
    I did read the sample and realised I couldn’t read any more. I gave up on American Psycho as just being too horrible to persist with.
    Considering my own recent novel (the Bet) does deal with (some of) the same area, it’s a subject I’ve thought about and find distressing. The double standards are worrying when you look at it hard.
    I agree also that censorship is not something I believe in but how a taboo subject is dealt with is so variable and that in the end is what distinguishes the deliberate shock seeker from someone seeking to explore the darker areas of human behaviour in a sane, intelligent manner.

    • Nettie
      Aug 8, 2013

      I hear you, Viv, and while I feel that Nutting was trying to shock, it is a subject we should be shocked about. It was all very confusing.

  4. Viv
    Aug 8, 2013

    Interesting review.
    I did read the sample and realised I couldn’t read any more. I gave up on American Psycho as just being too horrible to persist with.
    Considering my own recent novel (the Bet) does deal with (some of) the same area, it’s a subject I’ve thought about and find distressing. The double standards are worrying when you look at it hard.
    I agree also that censorship is not something I believe in but how a taboo subject is dealt with is so variable and that in the end is what distinguishes the deliberate shock seeker from someone seeking to explore the darker areas of human behaviour in a sane, intelligent manner.

    • Nettie
      Aug 8, 2013

      I hear you, Viv, and while I feel that Nutting was trying to shock, it is a subject we should be shocked about. It was all very confusing.

  5. Melinda Robinson
    Aug 8, 2013

    I can’t get past the “rich” cop. I’ve never known of one of those.

    Good review. I enjoyed it, but will side step this book. The daily news is enough..I don’t need pervesity on my book shelf.

  6. Melinda Robinson
    Aug 8, 2013

    I can’t get past the “rich” cop. I’ve never known of one of those.

    Good review. I enjoyed it, but will side step this book. The daily news is enough..I don’t need pervesity on my book shelf.

Leave a Reply

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This