No 728 Tampa by Alissa Nutting

7/10 of March Madness

Subtle? Moi?

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.

Debra Lafave, the ‘inspiration’ for Celeste Price.

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


Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

32 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hm, I’m always wary of books that try to shock for the sake of the shock, you know? I was immediately put in mind of Lolita when you summarise this story, but for whatever else you want to make of Lolita, it does have a certain narrative flair.

    Great review! I might give this book a miss though..



  2. I am a huge fan of unlikable, flawed characters, but I haven’t felt like reading Tampa despite the hype. I didn’t know it was based on a real-life story either, but still. I have heard Nutting’s style described as “cheap” a few times. So, it got me thinking that the story needs to be told but with a different style or language. I am not a prude, neither am I into erotic novels, but I see that the characters’ sex lives are a neccessity to make them multidimensional. But that aspect needs to be approached with the same taste and style as the rest of their lives!


    • I agree totally Elena. I’m no prude either but the sex in this was so incessant that I became totally bored by it and the shock value was gone. It was neither erotic nor interesting and that’s a big fail for me.


  3. Think you may have a formatting problem as when it comes to me as an email there is a great deal of code and other mumbo jumbo. Other than that great review.


  4. Too attractive for jail?! Since when does that get someone off the hook? Thanks for the review, I’ll steer clear of this one.


    • That’s what happened, insane, right? Her lawyer said ‘To place Debbie into a Florida state women’s penitentiary, to place an attractive young woman woman in that kind of hellhole, is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions’. It’s that kind of double standard that I would love to have seen explored, but Tampa didn’t really do it.


      • That’s utterly ludicrous! And I thought American sentencing was hardcore…doubtless she’s now made a fortune selling her story! I’m not a prude either, but endless sex scenes…well, it’s just boring, lazy…and makes you think the author has nothing else to say. This is a fantastic review Cathy, really enjoyed it! And I’d no idea Tampa was based on a true story, either, until I read your great review. This is fast slipping down my mental TBR pile!


  5. Cathy, I read Tampa, and only read to the end because I (not knowing the real story of Debra LaFave) wanted her to be convicted and committed. All I could think throughout the book was Celeste needed some serious psychological help. And looking back, this book disturbed me because, as you say, it stayed pretty true to the actual circumstances. Great review!


    • Thanks! I kept reading in the hope that she would be convicted as I didn’t know the details of the trial. The ending was particularly distasteful. I thought that maybe I wasn’t enjoying it because I have a son and I was getting all protective of the boy, but I came to realise I wasn’t enjoying it because it wasn’t very good.


  6. This is on my TBR list, and frankly I’m quite glad that I read your review first, as it will prevent me from going in to it with too high hopes (I have read elsewhere that it is in the same literary category as Lolita – as in, well written).

    One thing I didn’t agree with in your review was the criticism that American Psycho doesn’t explore why Patrick Bateman is the way he is. I think the fact that Patrick’s ‘psychopathism’ is not explicitly delved into adds to the writing, in that it leaves the reader in a strange position where all we have is his view on life and his actions. We have no psychoanalysis of him which would, in a way, justify his actions. For me, it made Patrick creepier and the novel better.


    • Thanks for that. Great point on American Psycho, you’re right that not knowing about Patrick adds to the novel. I think it works in that book because he is the expression of the wider environment he inhabits (Wall Street) but in this book no wider point is made. I’d love to hear what you think of it though, just for me it’s not on a par with Lolita.


  7. I hated this book just from the cover. The cover said it all to be honest. Then when I read your review, well, I’d had enough of the book from that. There’s no way that book is making it near me. Thanks for a great review.


  8. I know this book is quite controversial and I’ve seen so many reviews, yet I haven’t read it for myself yet. I’m unsure about it though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts


    • Some people seem to like it so don’t let me put you off. There is a favourable quote on the cover from John Niven, an author I love and someone who has written plenty of unlikeable characters himself, but this just didn’t work for me at all. Thanks for the follow!


  9. I agree, fantastic review! At one point, I saw a lot of bloggers reading this book, but I had no clue what it was about until I read your review. It bothers me that this kind of stuff is being written and published, but I shouldn’t be surprised I guess.


    • Thank you! I don’t really mind books with this kind of subject matter being written and published, as long as they are in some way thoughtful or insightful. This was simply sensationalist and it worked, everyone was talking about it.


  10. I can always deal with difficult subjects in books but there are certain things that make me uncomfortable, like this book’s subject. I love your review and your writing! I hope I have the courage to read this though. Maybe 😉


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