7/10 of March Madness
I need to start by saying that I can handle an unlikeable lead character. Hell, I love an unlikeable lead character. Keith Talent, Patrick Bateman, Mrs Danvers are all great, memorable characters. Great protagonists have no need to be likeable; they just need to be compelling. A character can have a dubious moral code and still move the reader, as long as that code can be understood but not necessarily shared by the reader.
With that in mind, meet Celeste Price. She is a beautiful, wealthy, married, 26-year-old blonde who drives to her teaching job at a Florida high school in a red sports car. She’s also a self-obsessed, vain, amoral sociopath who tends to get what she wants. And what she wants? 14 year old boys. She’s not your average paedophile then, but paedophile she is and this is 265 pages of intentional shock and salaciousness set inside the head of an obsessive sexual predator. Now I have just read The Seven Days of Peter Crumb where I was totally invested in and moved by the plight of a murdering, raping, mentally ill psychopath. Celeste has the potential to be that type of character, so it’s is a shame then that I just got so bloody bored of her.
Nutting attended the same Florida high school as Debra Lafave who, in 2004 gained notoriety for seducing one of her 14 year old students. Had I known that Lafave escaped a custodial sentence on the grounds that she was too attractive for jail, I may have given up on Tampa. I was really only reading to the end to see Celeste get her comeuppance. But Nutting stays pretty faithful to the Lafave plot.
As well as the Lafave case, Nutting also wants to draw comparisons to Nabokov’s Lolita. Like Humbert, Celeste chooses her victim with care and sleeps with the parent of her victim in order to remain int he illicit relationship. However, to compare the two any further than that would be like comparing Goodfellas to Mickey Blue Eyes on the grounds that they both contain gangsters.Nabokov’s writing is lyrical, Nutting’s is banal. There are no explicit sex scenes in Lolita, Tampa has little else.
When she’s not having sex with children, Celeste is thinking about it, masturbating about it or having unavoidable sex with adults and fantasising about it. This is a book that is trying really, really hard to shock, but any shock is very quickly dissipated by over indulgence and by about half way through I started skimming the dirty but dull sex scenes in the hope that there might be something approaching character development or plot around the corner. No such luck.
“I knew that if I was going to write this I was going to refuse to euphemise, I was not going to hide behind language,” says Nutting. Yet that is exactly what she does. Tampa hides behind the cheap pornographic set pieces – the taking of Jack’s virginity goes on for 10 PAGES – to mask the fact that the satire it is striving for is absent. There is a lack of any kind of exploration of why Celeste is the way she is. The same criticism can be levelled at American Psycho, but at least it contains humour and wit and targets the wider empty toxic environment that Patrick Bateman exemplifies. For the satire to be successful, Celeste has to be aware that she is trapped within her own egoism but she’s not. We are merely trapped there with her and it’s not a pleasant place to be. Given no broader moral point, the story is as empty, shallow and superficial as its protagonist and the reader is left with nothing to invest in.
All other characters are, without exception, two-dimensional, the continuous descriptions of every type of sex imaginable are wearisome and some of the plotting is questionable. Does Celeste’s classroom have no windows? Is that kind of acrobatic sex possible in the back seat of a convertible sports car? How can her cop husband not realise he is being drugged on a regular basis? Why on earth call it Tampa if it doesn’t make any discernible difference to the plot?
Given the current climate of Operation Yewtree and the currency of the subject matter, it is clear that there is a point to be made about female sexual offenders and how society views them, but Tampa is not the book to do it.
Read On: iPad
Number Read: 19
Number Read March Madness: 7/10
Number Remaining: 727