TAMPA – Alissa Nutting


10/10. Clever, bold, subtle… All the things a good cover should be (I’ll even forgive the unnecessary use of ‘a novel’), though sadly I got the much less suitable and more boring button version.

“Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She is attractive. She drives a red Corvette. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed and devoted to her. But Celeste has a secret. She has a singular sexual obsession – fourteen-year-old boys. It is a craving she pursues with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought. Within weeks of her first term at a new school, Celeste has lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web – car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods. It is bliss. Celeste must constantly confront the forces threatening their affair – the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind. But the insatiable Celeste is remorseless…”

TAMPA was all the rage when it was first published, and for that reason I steered clear of it for a while (I think I’ve mentioned a few times that I get a bit anti-hype, working in the publishing industry), but I suddenly decided that it was time to give it a go. A quick look online at the reviews told me that this was a divisive book – no surprises there – but with one of my favourite books being Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, a book sorely mistaken by those who haven’t read it as filth (thanks, pop cult), I decided to give it a chance.

From the get-go, I was taken aback; Alyssa pulls no punches with her brazen plot, her brash writing, and her sexual under- AND overtones . Subtle this book ain’t; it’s overtly, openly sexual, with a boldness not seen in modern literature for a long time. Whilst I found this slightly distasteful – I can’t tell if it’s due to the book’s originality, the watering-down of sexual scenes in other novels that aren’t outright erotica, or the fact that this definitely ISN’T Lolita – I was hooked by Alyssa’s daring story and shameless metaphors.

Much like the main characters in the popular TV show Breaking Bad, Celeste is not really a likeable or admirable person, but you find a little bit of yourself rooting for her not to get caught – even as she breaks the law so distastefully. However, as her sexual proclivities start to go further and further past the reasonable border of psychological conditioning regarding her choice of lovers – which is what explained Humbert’s penchant for young girls in Lolita – I was relieved to get to the end of the book.

As the reviews show, this book isn’t for everyone – I lent it to a friend with two stepsons, only a little older than Jack in the book, and she simply couldn’t get past that – and I don’t think that I’ll read it again, but I’m glad that I did. Literature deserves more bold writing like Nutting’s and original plots; if we didn’t write the things that people found shocking to read, many great books and films would never have come to light, which would be an absolute travesty. TAMPA is provocative and audacious, whilst being brave and subversive: two things that books and authors should be striving more towards.