Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting



Title: Tampa

Author: Alissa Nutting

Published: Faber & Faber August 2013

Status: Read from July 29 to 31, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

Inspired by the case of Debra Lafave, with whom Alissa Nutting attended high school, Tampa exposes the secret sexual obsession of twenty eight year old high school English teacher, Celeste Price.

It is the beginning of the school year and as each class files in, Celeste studies the male students carefully, looking for a boy, ‘undeniably male but not man’. It is fourteen year old Jack Patrick, with “[s]omething in his chin-length blond hair, in the diminutive leanness of his chest’ that captures her attention and whom she sets out to seduce.

Written in the first person, Nutting exposes Celeste as a narcissistic sociopath, with a sexual preference for young teenage boys. Driven by her insatiable desire she pursues Jack not for their mutual enjoyment, nor to forge an emotional connection, but to satisfy her all consuming lust. As a sociopath Celeste cares for no-one “Why did anyone pretend human relationships have value?” but is aware her proclivities would invite censure and so is careful to manage situations in order to allow herself some freedom. She drugs her husband, a police officer, to avoid his suspicion and his libido, drives Jack hours out of town for sex in her car, remains in an isolated classroom because it has a lock on the door.

Tampa is explicit, shockingly so, but not erotic from my perspective. If anything I felt slightly ill and my mind shied from any attempt to visualise the interactions between Celeste and Jack. It helps that Celeste is so emotionally detached, while Jack is lamenting it will be four years before he can marry Celeste, she is already, in part, considering her exit options for when his attractiveness to her wanes.

Nutting has said she wrote Tampa in part to expose the double standard society applies to the sexual proclivities of gender. Women responsible for the seduction of teenage boys consistently receive lighter sentences, and less censure, than men who prey on girls. Similarly girls are treated as vulnerable victims, cruelly exploited, while boys are generally viewed as less so.

“I was bikini clad, lounging on the hood of a spots car, my blond hair fanned back in the wind. “If you were a teenage male”, the commentator began, pointing a leering finger back at the photo [of Celeste], “would you call a sexual experience with her abuse?”

Though the issue is raised directly only briefly during Celeste’s trial, the story itself addresses the ideas in subtle ways. Buck, for example, doesn’t find anything remiss with Celeste giving his son personal attention outside of school hours, whereas a male teacher paying the same attention to a female student would immediately raise suspicion.

Tampa is described as satirical but I think this is where the novel falls down for me. I think there is too much truth in Celeste’s warped perceptions, though many readers may choose to comfort themselves with the idea that women like Celeste do not exist, even though we would all agree men like her do. In the same way the purported humourous elements escape me.

Tampa is a confronting read but also absorbing in its raw and unflinching portrayal of a disturbed mind. I admire Nutting for her bravery in stimulating discussion about the way in which we view female sexual predators, and their victims and I hope that message is not lost on readers, and the media, in amongst the sensationalism.

Available to Purchase from:

Allen & Unwin I BoomerangBooks I Booktopia I Amazon Kindle

via Booko

Amazon US I Amazon UK I BookDepository



11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. brendat59
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 15:20:17

    Excellent review Shelleyrae. Not a book I could comfortably read I’m afraid, but your review gives important perspectives…



  2. katebellex
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 16:05:46

    Totally agree Shellytae. It’s not erotic. And I didn’t find any of it funny or satirical. And the attitudes she points to wont be changed by the publication of this novel. Your review is measured and honest. Thank you.



  3. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 16:40:18

    I was really curious as to what you would think Kate since there are some loose parallels between The Yearning and Tampa. I think your approach offered more depth than Tampa does.



  4. Tracey (Carpe Librum blog)
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 18:41:23

    Great review Shelleyrae! This is a popular book right now, but I won’t be reading it based on the themes involved. I wouldn’t read it if the teacher was male either; I just find it poor taste and there are so many wonderful books out there, I don’t need this one in my life.
    Your thorough review is probably the closest I’ll get to it, so thanks for sharing 🙂



  5. Sue G (@luv2read66)
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 21:00:11

    We have this book at our bookstore and no one has even touched it. I don’t think people know what it is about. Not something I would care to read–brave of you to do so! Thanks for the review!



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Aug 05, 2013 @ 13:35:01

      How interesting Sue, it has been generating a little bit of press here so I thought some may be at least curious



  6. Teddyree
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 12:38:22

    Very thoughtful review, female sexual predators are no less abhorrent to me than males so I’m pretty sure this book will bring me nausea rather than any further enlightenment.



  7. Trackback: Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting | Fantastic Books

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